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At the regional AGM held on November 2, 2010, several attendees spoke of a need for a platform for junior cricketers to play year-round cricket. Their wish became a reality on February 12, 2011 when the NJ Junior Cricket League kicked of with an indoor match between Black Ops and Alpha Wolves at the DreamCricket Indoor Nets.
Pic (Right): Pranav Kanukollu [Courtesy: Sateesh KVK]
In the first of the five match indoor series in the league's winter edition, the Alpha Wolves defeated the Black Ops by a margin of 10 runs. In a match where each batting pair played 5 overs, Pranav Kanukollu top-scored for the Alpha Wolves with 13. Yash Kulkarni was the top run getter for Black Ops with 16.
The league, christened the 'NJ Junior Cricket League,' has reached an agreement with clubs in New Jersey and New York for the use of the grounds. When the league moves outdoors in April, it is anticipated that the two founding teams will be joined by several other teams from New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.
"The league would have remained just an idea without the assurance of the Staten Island Cricket Club who have graciously agreed to continue their support of junior cricket. In addition, we are grateful for the support of Pradeep Vedala, Jaideep Reddy and Bharat Patel from the NJ's leagues for offering the use of their grounds and also agreeing to actively support the league. It is largely due to their support that we can now schedule matches in NJ and Staten Island once the winter ends," Venu Palaparthi said.
NJJCL will play Saturdays and a representative team from NJJCL will also take part in Division 3 of the CLNJ. "We are developing a process wherein eligible junior cricketers, based on skill level and physical ability, will be certified to play alongside senior coach-mentors in a team in the CLNJ," Palaparthi said.
The league would not be possible without the enthusiastic participation of the parents. Having waited for some years for the league to take off, parents demonstrated their eagerness by taking on the roles of scorers, umpires and coaches in yesterday's inaugural indoor match. "All these youngsters have had good skills training, thanks to Coach Daley but it is time they participate in the regular league matches to bring out their true talent, part of which was seen at the last Under 15 USACA inter-region games," Mohan Saikara, father of Harish Saikara told DreamCricket.com. "I believe that this is the first step, and we sincerely hope that it gathers momentum in the coming days," Saikara said.
Pic (Right) : Zahid Rahmat [Courtesy: Sateesh KVK]
Coach Earl Daley, who has been closely involved with a majority of cricketers, will play a key role in the league and monitor the boys' progress in a team setting.
Recovering from shoulder surgery, Mr. Daley's thoughts were with the league at the start of the first match and he sent a brief encouraging email ahead of the first match: "All the best," he wrote, but not without a reminder that the kids use "proper technique." In keeping with his desire to reinforce proper technique during the winter season, indoor cricket rules have been modified to reward only shots played along the ground.
Over time, the NJJCL hopes to find volunteer coaches to help each team. "We hope that the senior cricketers will pass along their love for the game to the next generation. An enterprise such as this needs the support of the entire cricket loving community," Palaparthi said. Adding that a search was on to find a cricket-friendly lawyer who could help the league pro bono with filing for a non-profit status. "For this league to expand, we need the support of corporate and community sponsors. And for that to happen, it is important to register the league as a non-profit corporation."
Speaking about DreamCricket's role, Kranthi Bayya, CEO of DreamCricket.com, said that as the preeminent coaching academy in the region, DreamCricket was happy to serve as a catalyst for the formation of the league. "We are proud to be involved with the league's formation but I want to be clear that the league itself should be an independent body with active involvement from and support of all leagues, academies and aspiring junior cricketers in the region. This league ultimately belongs to the cricketers."
The NJJCL is not the first junior initiative in New Jersey. As recently as 2007, the now dormant Junior NJ Cricket program boasted 70 young cricketers. In fact, USA U-19 cricketers Mital Patel and Cameron Mirza, took part in that program. If you look back to cricket's glory years in the 19th century, junior cricketers played the sport in the present-day Atlantic Region in large numbers. Cricket was played at schools such as John Quincy Adams Grammar School, Protestant Episcopal Academy, Farmer’s High School of Bellafonte, Central High School of Philadelphia and Lawrenceville School near Trenton throughout the latter half of the 19th century. In 1860, 300 students out of the total strength of 500 students at the Philadelphia Free Academy played cricket. In fact, cricket still survives at Lawrenceville School, which boasts a cricket program that is 150 years old.
Pic (Right): The Alpha Wolves: Back Row - Zahid Rahmat, Shekhar Kripalani, Ryan Aravind, Pranav Kanakollu. Front Row - Advaith Manur and Harish Eashwar [Courtesy: Sateesh KVK]
The truth remains that despite the growing popularity of cricket, there has not been a year-round schedule of matches for the young cricketers to hone their skills. Until last year, aspiring young cricketers from DreamCricket Academy had to travel to California, Michigan and Florida to get real match practice. "There were the national tournament and the inter-academy fixtures, but these were few and far between. To his credit, Coach Daley organized some matches last year against teams from Philly, Maryland and Connecticut. But generally speaking, when you talk about the majority of the boys and you look at what is needed from a cricket development standpoint, the chances of the boys getting a game every weekend were slim to none," Bayya said.
Bayya said that the league was conceived at a meeting that was convened at DreamCricket Pavilion on December 5, 2010. "It is heartening to see the idea come to fruition thanks to the efforts of the kids, the parents, and the coach."
The league is actively recruiting players and volunteers. If you want to join the league and wish to learn more about the league's winter and summer calendar, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.