The face of Indian cricket has changed over the last
few years with the rise of players from the country’s
Till less than a decade back it was the metros,
specifically Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai,
Bangalore and Hyderabad (all state capitals) which
produced the vast majority of players making it into
the big time.
But with the spread of televised cricket and the huge
amounts of money coming into the game today, middle
class families from all parts of the country are
encouraging their sons to take to cricket.
The latest examples are batsmen Y. Venugopal Rao—who
scored a match-winning 228 not out for South Zone
against England ‘A’ last year in the domestic Duleep
Trophy tournament—and Suresh Raina. Both made their
debuts in the recent ODI tri-series in Sri Lanka.
Rao is from the south-eastern port city of
Visakhapatnam (which has never produced an
international cricketer before) and Raina from the
industrial township of Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh
state, neighbouring New Delhi. The only previous
international cricketer from Ghaziabad was former
all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar.
Earlier this year India discovered a talented
wicket-keeper/batsman in Mahendra Singh Dhoni who made
an immediate impact in his debut ODI series against
Dhoni is from Ranchi, capital of the newly-formed
Jharkhand state and till five years ago a part of the
impoverished state of Bihar. Better known perhaps for
being the home of a mental asylum, Ranchi lacks
cricket tradition. Dhoni has become such a celebrity
back home that he is not able to step out without
Another cricketer originally from Bihar was Syed Saba
Karim, also a wicket-keeper/batsman who played 34 ODIs
and one Test match from 1997 to 2000 before being
forced to retire with an eye-injury.
Karim shifted from his home base to the more glamorous
Bengal side where he came to the attention of captain
Sourav Ganguly and the national selectors. This was
the accepted trend for nearly 70 years of Indian
But no longer. Now Karim feels it is better if
cricketers stick to their home base with numerous
examples like Mohammed Kaif (Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh),
Parthiv Patel (Ahmedabad, Gujarat) and Harbhajan Singh
(Jalandhar, Punjab) proving middle-class backgrounds
and small-town roots are no longer a hindrance in
“In my playing days a shift was essential. But now it
appears it is better to be a big fish in a small pond.
Further, these players have shown a ferocious hunger
to succeed which is lacking in the metros where they
are so many other distractions to take youngsters’
focus away from cricket.”
Cricket till the mid-90s was never considered a viable
career option. Particularly in middle-class India
education was always a priority and the time spent on
cricket considered a waste by parents.
Today coaching camps have spread to every city and
town across the country with untold numbers of
children being encouraged—sometimes even forced—by
their parents to learn the game. The lure of fame and
money is proving very strong indeed with Sachin
Tendukar the foremost example.
Despite coming from a solidly middle-class family
steeped in culture and education (his father was a
professor and poet), Tendulkar’s own education ended
at the age of 17 by which time he had already scored a
century for his country (at Old Trafford in August
1990). His parents realized at this stage that the
twin burdens of year-round cricket and studies were
proving too much for the teenager.
Today Tendulkar is worth millions of dollars through
lucrative endorsements with foreign brand names and is
perhaps the most famous face in the country. And one
of the richest too.
“Every parent who sent his son to my coaching camp
told me they wanted me make him into a second Sachin”,
said his elder half-brother Ajit shortly after
launching his own coaching scheme in Mumbai in 2001.
He wound it up after being attacked in his home by
three teenagers, angry he had not recommended their
names to leading clubs.
Fast bowler Irfan Pathan’s father is a maulvi (Islamic
preacher) and the family grew up in a one-roomed
tenement in the courtyard of their mosque in Vadodara,
Last year Pathan bought a mansion for his family in
the heart of the city. His face appears on TV screens
across the country, endorsing numerous products.
Kaif’s father is a ticket checker with the Railways
while Dhoni’s background is even more modest.
His father was forced to migrate from Almora district
(now in Uttaranchal) in search of a living and landed
up working as a labourer in one of Ranchi’s many steel
plants. The son was employed as a ticket checker with
the Railways, but has now received rapid promotions.
For the new generation of Indian cricket, the game has
been their ticket to name, fame and wealth.