In the history of Indian cricket, the most successful teams have been those that have had a solid foundation… an administration that does the groundwork so that its players can thrive. Mumbai, with a record 41 Ranji Trophy titles to their name, have always enjoyed a solid structure to fall back on. Karnataka and Vidarbha, the two teams that have impressed the most in both red and white-ball cricket over the past decade, have a similarly strong base.
Sadly, the one to miss out on these fundamentals is the team from the national capital. That is because it is run by, arguably, the most incompetent organisation within Indian cricket – the Delhi & District Cricket Association.
Delhi’s golden phase was between 1976 and 1992, where they won the Ranji Trophy and finished runners-up in the tournament six times each. From there on, though, it has been a steady decline. The last time they won the Ranji title was in 2007-’08. Since then, the best result they’ve managed is a runners-up finish in 2017-’18.
As of today, the most striking aspect about Delhi cricket is indeed the mismanagement by the DDCA. However, there is one other aspect that stands out – the number of international stars the state has produced alongside its association’s slump.
You would imagine that a state which is anything but consistent in producing competitive teams at the top level would struggle to provide players of international caliber. For that matter, even Vidarbha, who won the Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup twice in a row from 2017 to ’19, didn’t have a single player who broke into the Indian team after those campaigns. Astonishingly, as far as Delhi is concerned, this hasn’t been the case.
Over the past two decades, Delhi has provided more than a handful of players to the Indian team. And some of them haven’t been ordinary, either. They have gone on to captain the side, win World Cups for the country and break several records. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Anjum Chopra, Ishant Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Rishabh Pant, Ashish Nehra, Aakash Chopra, Nikhil Chopra, Vijay Dahiya, Parvinder Awana, Pawan Negi, Navdeep Saini… the list is long.
The mess that is DDCA
To understand just how remarkable these cricketers’ rise to the Indian team has been, one has to look closely at the sheer mess that is the DDCA.
A few months ago, Kohli, arguably the most powerful person in international cricket today, spoke about a time from his junior days when his father refused to bribe a selector. He was told that he had the merit to make it to the Delhi team but he would have to “do something more” to make the cut. His father said no.
“I cried a lot after that. I was broken but that showed me that the world works like this. If you need to go ahead, do things that no one else is doing,” said Kohli.
The current India captain emerged from that setback and went on to achieve greatness, but this incident serves as one of the many reminders of the darkness in Delhi cricket.
The DDCA is in shambles. It has been for a long time now. Office-bearers have been guilty of corruption, members have even come to blows during an AGM, the secretary was sent to jail recently, presidents come and go, players and coaches often don’t get paid, there is no accountability of the funds sent by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, crores of rupees are spent on legal fees for all the cases being fought by the officials… there’s hardly a fraud that one can’t associate with the Delhi & District Cricket Association.
At the end of the day, though, the biggest travesty in all of this is the utter neglect for local cricket in the state. All of the money that should be spent on developing the game is wasted on court cases and looted by officials at every level.
Figure this: if the inter-state tournaments are to begin in October, the Mumbai Cricket Association starts its selection process in April. First, there are trials conducted simultaneously in 16 different areas across the city for all age groups. Each of these trials see a few hundred players turn up for selection. The coaches conduct nets for a few days and zero in on about 30 players for each camp. The players are then given training for a month before there’s an inter-camp tournament to filter out the top 60-70 players. The next step is to make the shortlisted players compete among each other in another small tournament, after which a final list of 30 players is prepared. These players are then given training for a month or two at MCA’s state of the art facility, based on which the final squad of 15 is picked to represent the state. Again, this exercise is done across all age groups.
Now, when it comes to Delhi, just about a fraction of this process is followed. The effort put by the DDCA in finding talent is farcical, to put it mildly. The selection trials start a month before the tournament and tend to go on until a few days before the first match is to be played. This means the players that make it to the team aren’t left with any time to train together. Well-planned coaching camps are a distant dream for Delhi cricketers.
During the trials, players are given a handful of deliveries to prove their worth. Which means you could be shown the door in an instant despite performing well through the year. Furthermore, a total of 30-40 players are selected for each team and wholesale changes are made to the XI before every match. This goes to show the number of undeserving players who make the cut. One can imagine the level of uncertainty faced by those hardworking players who rightfully earned their spot in the team.
Then there are the tournaments organised by the DDCA throughout the year. Sometimes, there simply aren’t any. They have a 40-overs-a-side league in which the affiliated clubs participate. But that too, amazingly, isn’t conducted many a time. Then there is the Hot Weather tournament which is, again, not too popular among the players.
So what works for Delhi cricket?
With the DDCA’s token effort in developing the game in the state, the backbone of local cricket in Delhi is formed by the private tournaments that take place. Lala Raghubir Singh, Goswami Ganesh Dutt and Om Nath Sood are names of some of the biggest tournaments conducted in Delhi, in which clubs and institutions participate. And the real effort that is put in honing the players’ skill comes from private coaches and academies.
“For a country to come up, its club-cricket culture has to be strong,” Gurcharan Singh, the second cricket coach in India to receive the Dronacharya Award, told Scroll.in. “You look at all these Delhi players who have made it big, they had the solid support of their clubs. Especially in Delhi, where the association doesn’t do much, the clubs play the most crucial role in building players.”
Tarak Sinha, a Dronacharya Award winner and the man behind the famous Sonnet Cricket Club which has produced a number of first-class and international players, said, “The clubs help the players work hard and improve. It’s all on them. The DDCA just comes at the end and collects the good players for the state teams. The clubs are the ones bringing up the talent. They provide facilities throughout the year and offer good quality practice.”
One big positive among all the negatives is the fact that players become mentally strong as they climb through the ranks. Because there is such uncertainty in terms of the selection process, players learn how to deal with pressure from a young age.
“Delhi cricket’s strongest point is the determination of its players. They play against all odds, knowing they won’t get any assistance from the state association,” said Sinha.
Randhir Singh, who runs the Rann Star Cricket Academy and is a coach at the Madras Cricket Club, told Scroll.in: “There is a lot of pressure on the players in Delhi. And that has more to do with what happens on the outside. A lot of players can’t take it and leave the game. It’s wasted talent. But the ones who manage to survive become very tough. They get prepared for the challenges on the field and off it as well.”
Despite the efforts of the coaches and the determination of the players, a major issue that persists is the culture of selectors backing those who they are familiar with.
“They say undeserving players make it to the team through recommendations. But in Delhi, even a deserving player can only make it through recommendations,” said Randhir Singh. “For a player to get recognition, he needs two things: plenty of runs/wickets and a coach who promotes him incessantly.”
Sharvan Kumar, the childhood coach of Ishant Sharma and someone who has served Delhi cricket for decades, added: “One of the worst things that has happened is that there is no guarantee these days of genuinely good players getting to climb up the ladder. That wasn’t the case earlier. Back then, everyone knew that if a player was exceptional, he would rise irrespective of the corruption in place. But that isn’t the case today, which is unfortunate.
“I always say this to players: you can get to play one match through recommendation, but you won’t get to play good matches that way. You will have to perform no matter whose child you are. You have to be so good that people come asking for you.”
A lot more to do
The latest worrying trend in Delhi cricket is the exorbitant participation fee being charged by some of the popular private tournaments. These are knockout tournaments and can demand up to Rs 50,000 per team. “If I register my team and lose in the first round, it’s too big a loss for me. They say the winners and runners-up get big prize money, but what about the other teams? This is no way to function,” said Kumar.
Delhi has produced many top-class cricketers over the years but the fact remains that they can achieve a lot more with assistance from the DDCA. For starters, there must be an academy in place where the top players are trained throughout the year.
“They should have observers who go see all the matches and spot the talent,” said Sinha. “You need administrators to sit and think hard about how to improve local cricket. There needs to be a structure like there is in places like Mumbai and Karnataka. Take Vidarbha for example, they hired a few professionals and set up a solid foundation. It’s a small place but has done so well. Why can’t Delhi do the same?”
Gurcharan Singh added: “There are so many people playing cricket in Delhi. The state has such a big population. So I don’t think it’s a big deal that we have a handful of players who have made it to the Indian team over the years. We should have a lot more. If the DDCA was an honest, hardworking organisation, the majority of the Indian team would comprise of Delhi players.”
Perhaps, it’s fair to say that Delhi were lucky to get Kohli and the likes. Perhaps, it’s also fair to say that the DDCA’s big contribution to Delhi cricket is corruption and the hostile environment it creates. It toughens up the players and the best ones emerge. Other associations take care of their players, but not the DDCA. Once the players know that only performances will keep them afloat, they learn how to perform because it truly is a case of survival of the fittest.