Sunday, August 29, 2010

Selling Your Intent

Representing one’s country is something everyone dreams of but a very few go on to achieve and that is why those who attain it are seen as special. They not only carry the pride of the nation on their sleeves but also act as an inspiration to their generation and propel youngsters to strive towards bigger goals. Especially in the Asian subcontinent where the sociological conditions are not always great and every day is a challenge in its own way these stars are hailed and revered as their escapades are an avenue to detach oneself from the grinds of the daily mundane life and that is one of the primary reason for cricket’s meteoric rise in Pakistan and India. The personal milestones of players are considered to be achievements of the citizens who could not break their shackles and it offers content for casual conversations in public joints and dinner tables across the geographical stretch. It is not a secret why Asian cricketers are the fulcrum to any ICC competition’s market profitability.

The players thrive on their popularity and the stardom status as they are aware of the roots, having travelled the same lanes and gone through the identical routine for years before wearing the country cap. While in their moulding stage many sleepless nights are spent dreaming and visualising the role of being a match winner in a world cup final or having the name enrolled on the honours board at the home of cricket. They rehearsal the victory laps, the celebratory antics and the stares at the opponent in front of their mirror at the expense of their social life and promise to themselves of remaining firmly intact with their background when the reality takes centre stage.

The selector’s phone call opens the door to international prominence and with it comes the biggest challenge of protecting one’s sanity of living up to the promises made in front of the mirror. The past has witnessed an enriching number of excellent craftsmen coming through the pipeline but the ‘legends’ differentiated themselves from the rest through their moral values and simplistic lifestyle which earned them respect in every country they played in whereas the stars have always been susceptible to the clutches of glamour that looks for opportunities to strengthen its claws on these ‘innocent’ minds. The same continues to be the scenario today as the lure of commercial riches have raised key questions on the mental toughness yet again and has resulted in the nation’s pride being tainted.

It is easy to point fingers at the parent body but no coaching and no education can teach a person the virtues of having the right intent and strong character. Citizens of a geographical zone where instability is the order of the day have every right to be disappointed but what about the individual’s promise much before he earned his cap. Did all those promises made in front of the mirror not haunt him before he overstepped the line or did he succumb to an uncontrollable environment which was set up by his fellow team mates? Can the youngster’s parents who were proudly boasting of their son’s heroic in a separate continent now visit their nearest grocery shop or resume their daily chores after this lustful act of their son. Did it all mean nothing when he used his bargaining power to tilt the equation in balance of ‘acts of shame’.

The beauty of sports lies in its ability to bring the best out of the performers without an assurance on the result in a fiercely competitive atmosphere but the noise in the media suggest that the line is slowly disappearing and if the allegations are true then sport might just have lost its unique advantage.

Sidhanta Patnaik

29th August 2010



(This piece was written after the completion of 4th test between England and Pakistan at Lord’s played from 26th – 29th August where Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir were alleged to have bowled no-balls which were pre planned for an exchanged amount of £150,000)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Indian Football - Just Do It

The mention of Indian football raises eyebrows because of its inability to produce an internationally successful team. Since yesterday (5th August 2010) was my first live experience of watching an Indian football team play in an international competition, I do not qualify to point out the system’s loopholes and moreover I have never made an earnest attempt to understand the dynamics of Indian football set up. However after witnessing Shillong Lajong Football Club represent India at Manchester United Premier Cup 2010 (MUPC) , I had enough reasons to be convinced that though India may not qualify for 2014 FIFA world cup yet there lies hope for the future.

MUPC has been a regular fixture in the international football calendar since 1993 with able support from Nike and is held at Manchester United’s practice grounds in Carrington. This year the under 15 teams of various clubs in 43 nations competed in their respective country and the winners qualified for the zonal finals. The top 20 club teams booked their flight to Manchester to compete in the finals (The Indian winners have got direct entry into the finals since 2 years). India’s Shillong Lajong Football Club was slotted in group A and lost all the four group matches without scoring a single goal and conceded 15 goals. It will play its table positioning match today afternoon and will attempt to avoid the wooden spoon. Had results and statistics been the only measure for judging a team’s performance and in the process a country’s progress in a particular sport then this drubbing experience counts for little but the journey begins where the score line halts.

For long, Indian football was majorly restricted to Goa, Kerala and West Bengal and there were only a handful of clubs that were recognised nationally. Matters were in a state of shamble because no corporate was interested to engage itself in a relationship with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) because the bureaucratic system had made the parent body directionless. There has not been a major transitional change in the ground realities however Nike, india has taken the first giant step in building a process that could help the game penetrate into the grassroots among the wider segment of the society and in the process give the due recognition to this wonderful sport in the second most populous country in the years to come. By engaging more that 70 clubs across the country at the pre qualifying stage and 32 clubs in the finals of the MUPC country qualifying round, Nike India has sparked a football movement among the youngsters of the country who a few years back irrespective of their possessed talent were clueless about how the game would benefit them. Last year Salgaocar Sports Club represented India in the finals and this year the city of Shillong gained prominence in the world football map. This is a clear sign of how right intent and dedicated effort can create a platform for anyone in any corner of the world to gain global reputation in this boundary less environment.

Today after the match when I looked into the eyes of these young footballers, they were beaming with confidence and the grin on their face was that of happiness and satisfaction of having done something under the country’s banner at such a young age. At the age of 15 or less these players are highly spirited and too young to be saddened by the defeats. For them what matters is a chance to play the game that they love the most in an environment that their seniors would not have dreamt of in the past. Shillong Lajong FC may end up as the 20th ranked team of the tournament but the opportunity to have played a few matches in Europe and the exposure gained will remain with these skilled players for their entire life and if the administrators understand the significance of this movement that Nike, India has initiated then these moments of truths can be leveraged to take the campaign to an entirely new level. If there has to be a fairytale plot then in this decade, a few Indian names might figure in the starting line up of the premier European football clubs.

On 8th August, Shillong Lajong FC players will land in Mumbai followed by a 36 hours train journey to Guwahati and then another three hours on road in three Tata Sumos* to reach their home town. The tiredness of the journey will disappear in no time as the city will be waiting to ceremonially welcome its boys who have made the country proud and will remain as the only Indian football team to have played in an international tournament in the European continent in the year 2010.

This is the beginning.

*Tata Sumo – It is an Indian four wheeler with a seating capacity of 12.

Sidhanta Patnaik
6th August 2010

On 13th March 2010, NDTV had done a special 20 minutes programme on Shillong Lajong FC (

(Special thanks to Siddhant Narayan from Nike, India for having invited me to watch Shillong Lajong FC play in MUPC 2010)

English league cricket – Window of opportunity for Orissa cricketers

The old adage of ‘practice makes a man perfect’ fits well for the game of cricket in India where the demands and expectations have changed in the last decade. With the evolution of Twenty 20 cricket, hike in the pay structure of domestic cricketers and boost in the volume of matches played in various competitions, the requirement for quality players has increased enormously and every single performance makes an impact unlike the case in the past. Therefore for a professional who plays the game for a living, the pressure is twofold to convert every single opportunity into an outstanding performance in order to secure his financial position and aspire to go on to achieve bigger things.

Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) scheduling allows a cricketer to play matches in a series of tournaments and leagues from November when the Ranji Trophy season starts till May when the Indian Premier League (IPL) ends. However for a player, one level below international cricket, the calendar offers not much encouragement during the offseason between May and October due to weather constraints. In Orissa, apart from the Kalahandi cup there is not much to look forward to during this phase. Without match practice, it becomes really challenging for a player to remain in his prime touch and with the calendar getting crowded every season, the onus lies on the individual to prepare himself during the offseason in the best possible manner in order to hold a chance to get spotted by a talent seeker.

This is where the role of league cricket becomes so important. The massive league structure of The United Kingdom (UK)* offers the best solution with cricket being played in the European continent only between April and August. The window of opportunity opens up for every cricketer across the globe who is focussed on making the best usage of the offseason and Orissa cricketers have taken to it like duck to water. It is a culture that started developing in the state during early 2000s and gained significant prominence and as a phenomenon is slowly seeping into the roots of Orissa cricket which will reap benefits for the state in the years to come. The success of many state cricketers can be credited to their proactive step of continuously playing in English league, prominent among them are SS Das, Pravanjan Mullick, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Deepak Mangaraj, Niranjan Behera amongst others. They also need to be recognised for the efforts taken in building a pipeline through which they have over the period introduced many young talented players from Orissa to clubs in various leagues in UK.

Though many view it is an off season bonanza to earn some extra penny in a circuit where the levels are a tinge below first class level yet the importance of league cricket goes beyond the runs scored and wickets taken and plays a significant role in shaping up a youngster’s career. Make no mistake, it is no paid holiday. Performance is the only true friend for the professionals who join these clubs and the moment the graph takes a dip southward, the work ethic and level of commitment comes under scrutiny because for these clubs, the professional is a product they have invested in with an aim to derive the maximum economic value out of him before the season expires.

Apart from acclimatising to new conditions, working on weaknesses and putting in the hard steps away from the constant media glare, this stint offers lessons beyond the cricket field and prepares a cricketer for the bigger challenges that lay ahead. A stint here offers the right experience and exposes the players to turf wickets at quite an early age which is a rarity in Orissa cricket (Though of late, OCA has taken initiatives to encourage clubs to come up with their own turf wickets). Beyond the on field performances, the players get a picture of the global cricketing world which enhances their spectrum and gives them an opportunity to communicate with foreign cricketers and learn their style of game and add new skills to the repertoire. The season also gives them the chance to be involved with the game at an altogether different level by engaging themselves in cricket development projects around the club which might include coaching the kids or preparing a turf wicket or maintaining the ground. All this puts the player in the process that not only enhances his level of confidence and leadership skills but also shapes up his off field mannerism and character. This eventually reflects on their scorecard which can only benefit the teams that they go on to represent in the future.

There have been constant criticism in the cricketing circle of Orissa about the disadvantages of playing league cricket as a youngster and the opinions may be credible however during the offseason it is much better an option to enhance ones credibility and peep into an alternative future rather than wildering in the darkness and whiling away time in public joints doing things that one is not always proud of.

With the past generation of Orissa cricketers having led the path now it is up to the present young generation to take decisions and enrol with clubs in UK in order to prudently shape their careers as league cricket is a way to ensure that opportunity meets luck at the right time at the right place. After all today cricket is a mainstream profession that offers an opportunity to make a living.

* United Kingdom constitutes of England, Scotland and Ireland

Sidhanta Patnaik

(This piece was produced at 1.53am on 31st July 2010 and was published in on 2nd August 2010)