Cricket rising from the shadows of Table Tennis in Udharbond; TT Club at the cusp of promotion to 1st Div
Cricket in Cachar has become commercial with very little commerce involved in the game. Meaning, a few hundred rupees have surpassed emotions. Gone are the days when players used to play wearing the pride of the club as a badge of honour. Also gone are the days when youngsters in second division or third division used to play to catch the attention of stalwarts like Amal Das, Niranjan Das, Subhashish Choudhury, Haidar Hussain, Mehboob Alam, Alok Sarkar who would sit outside and watch to scout for their respective top division teams. Moreover, for the kids today, playing in Satindra Mohan Dev Stadium is no longer an occasion or matter of rare opportunity. The lush green oval where Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Virat Kohli once played is now open for all division cricket, hence it is routine and not rare by any means.
As a result, cricket today is less competitive. Much like “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink” it is cricket cricket everywhere yet very few players riding up the ranks. Clubs are not as passionate for promotion as they used to be. Hardly any club in first division, second division or third division, in fact in super division, appoint a full time coach or manager. No trial, no selection camps, no field to practice regularly. Clubs with deeper pockets pay handsome fees to players and players switch whimsically. This is the same Cricket ecosystem where star player of his time, Niranjan Das played more than a decade for the same club, but now such examples are hard to find. When, Town Club took on India Club to play a cricket match, it used to be a derby-like atmosphere. There was no stadium but the oval used to get surrounded by crowds. Now, the respective club members don’t turn up, forget crowds.
The District Sports Association organises all tournaments with due diligence. The number of matches are far higher than what it used to be. Currently, second division tournament is going on. Most teams participating in the tournament were built a few days leading to the tourney. They have never practiced together. Most teams have eleven individuals and not a collective unit that can be called a team. Hardly any player gets paid more than Rs 500 per match and yet, it is commerce that runs the show and not passion. As a result, win or lose, promotion or relegation, it barely matters.
While this is the general state of affairs, there are exceptions like Itkhola Sporting, Malugram… but the biggest example of what a team means is clearly the Udharbond Table Tennis Club. One might reiterate the famous saying, “What’s in the name” but sometimes name tells a lot. As the name suggests, TT Club is all about Table Tennis and indoor games. The Udharbond based club is so focused on TT that throughout the recent wave of Coronavirus infections, it kept its academy open for players. From scouting to training to exposing them to competitive atmospheres, TT Club backs paddlers throughout the journey. Many Table Tennis players from TT Club play at National level and win laurels for the district and the state. However, it too has a cricket team. “We don’t invest in cricket. Even the match ball is bought by the players who play for the team. They travel spending their own money, they use their own gears. It is their dedication and determination to qualify and become a first division club is what brings them again and again to try it out,” said a senior member of the TT Club.
This is what playing for the pride of the club means. This is what cricket used to be. This is the environment that saw Prakash Bhagat, Himadri Das, Pritam Das, Rajdeep Das, Samik Das, Raihan Jomeel Mazumdar emerge and play at top levels in the district and some of them went on to find a spot in the state team. The dedication and determination of the TT Club or the players from Udharbond are showing results. One more match and they can say with pride, “Har ke jeetne walon ko Bazigarh Kehte Hain” in other words, they are at the cusp of becoming a first division club.
Today, they have defeated the Suravi Club to qualify for the final of Second Division tournament. They will play against the Classmates Union and the winner will get promoted as a first division club.
It did not come that easy for the Udharbond TT Club. Far away from the centre of the town, they hardly had the infrastructure to train. There were hardly any leather-ball tournaments for them to have the match practice. They started finding solutions instead of whining like the clubs in Central Silchar do. The cricket enthusiasts of Udharbond launched a tournament called Udharbond Cricket League or UCL. The tournament has been mounted at a grand scale. In fact, the medals that are awarded to the winners and runners up are imported from Guwahati, something that the mighty DSA doesn’t do even for its Super Division tournament. Crowds surround the ground making the high decibel matches competitive. In just two years, it has become an aspirational tournament for the local cricketers. They wait eagerly to play at UCL. The organisers, in order to provide exposure to the local players, have restricted it to the players of the constituency.
Cricket becomes the story in otherwise Table Tennis dominated Udharbond when UCL kickstarts. Not only UCL, players from Udharbond even participated in Barak Premier League a high profile cricket tournament organised by Veteran Cricketers Club. BPL is known for glamour and cashflow. Players from Delhi, Mumbai, Agartala are paid hefty match fees like Rs 7,000 per match and hired to play for the team. However, Udharbond Transformers, fielded their set team of local players and made a name for them at BPL too.
If Udharbond TT Club wins Parul Rani Memorial Second Division Tournament, its promotion to first division will be the promotion of passionate cricket and demotion of commercial cricket. Cricketers must always make money but money too soon comes at the cost of passion and therefore quality and competitiveness. The players of TT Club might buy the match ball spending their own money, but they play for passion for the Udharbond TT Club. Azharul Islam, Debojyoti Deb are playing well consistently and could have easily found first division clubs who would pay them handsome amount of money. Many clubs might have approached them too. But keeping their egos aside, they play together to play with the players they have grown up with. At second division level, TT Club is an ambassador of what a team must be. Overall, for Udharbond, these players are ambassadors of brand cricket that is emerging from the shadows of Table Tennis. They might go down against the Classmates Union in the final, but it is certain that they will turn up next year – united!