Lack of accountability of Odisha Cricket Association leaves state cricket in disarray

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Prasanta Swain/ P3 Visionz

Lack of accountability of Odisha Cricket Association leaves state cricket in disarray

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Bastab K Parida

09/19/2017

The Barabati Stadium in Cuttack doesn’t host a lot of international matches and the rarity means the otherwise sleepy silver city decks itself up when an international match comes to the venue. The buzz surrounding the entire city is very hard to miss and the atmosphere makes for a riveting watch.

Such has been the craziness of Cuttack fans.

The Odisha Cricket Association has also had its share of moments - of both notorious and celebrated ones. On an October evening in 2015, all hell broke loose as plastic bottles, hurled by fans, found their way on the field over the cordoned fence. The game faced multiple disruptions before South Africa chased down their target and cantered home to bring an end to the fiasco. Social media was furious, local administration quiet, India was shamed on the international stage and at the centre of it was Cuttack - a venue which hosted India's third home ODI back in 1982. When other venues turned their backs citing security concerns, OCA took the challenge of hosting the 2013 Women's World Cup head on and welcomed the Pakistan team with open arms. Cricket has always been promoted well in this part of the world and taking no credit away from the association, they did a great job in getting many international matches to the venue, much to the joy of the Odisha cricket fans.

Morality has never been something that you associate with Odisha Cricket Association, which occupies one of the prime slots on the list of the Deloitte audit with unexplained expenditure topping 500 crores.

As much as their efforts in that regard are commendable, their incompetence in various other facets has brought the progression of state cricket to a standstill. Last year, Odisha entered its first quarterfinal since 2001 under the inspiring leadership of Govinda Poddar, who has been their most promising batsman in recent times. Not only did it make the entire state proud, it also gave fans enough incentives to follow the team much closely. However, what has transpired ahead of this year’s domestic season has left everyone stunned and players perplexed about their future.

If the primary objective of any domestic competition is to produce the finest possible team to play at the biggest level, there needs to be a particular approach to reach the objective and in that regard, grassroot level competitions play a huge part. The reason why Mumbai cricket is so robust and has produced so many international cricketers is due to a strong maidan culture in the city, which makes the players tougher for the bigger challenges that may lay ahead. However, Odisha Cricket has failed to cope with the changing trends and the association is the one who has been the main culprit in all of this.

Despite the historic breakout season last year, on March 22, 2017, OCA decided not to host the inter-district, inter-club, inter-school, and inter-college competitions, citing excessive heat and examination of the students as the reason - a copy of which SportsCafe has been able to acquire. The excuse was laughable as anyone, who stays in the twin cities of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar can tell you that this year the heat was not as prevalent as it has been over the last few years. Exams also happen every year and still, the OCA had been organizing the tournament without any problems previously. Morality has never been something that you associate with Odisha Cricket Association, which occupies one of the prime slots on the list of the Deloitte audit with unexplained expenditure topping 500 crores. So, this sudden appearance of morality while organizing domestic tournaments is questionable and laughable, to say the least. 

 ©SportsCafe

However, to save their incompetence, the association had promised to host the tournaments in the month of September. But it came as no surprise that the tournaments didn’t see the light of day. Eventually, they came up with a notice on August 19, in which OCA instructed all the district units to send four players each to the state trials camp to be organized on September 1, which was later rescheduled to September 11. However, they asked Cuttack and Bhubaneswar to send 8 players each, which is understandable given most of Odisha's top players and clubs are concentrated in the two towns standing roughly 25 kms apart. 

But to everyone's surprise, the association released another notice on September 9 in which they had the names of 37 players from Cuttack itself, apart from last season's Ranji players, who were given direct entry to the trials. What prompted the association to accept all the names that were suggested by the Cuttack District Athletic Association (CDAA) is known only to them, but that in turn, resulted in stopping so many talented players from other districts in Odisha.  

Every year, Odisha traveled to three states to play pre-season invitational tournaments – Karnataka for Dr. (Capt.) K. Thimmappiah Memorial Tournament, Tamil Nadu for Buchi Babu invitational tournament, and Pune for Bhau Saheb Nimbalkar Invitational tournament. But this year, the team wasn’t sent to participate in a single match and instead, have been asked to prove their worth by playing a couple of nets games on grounds unsuitable for matches. Clearly frustrated by that, a player under the condition of anonymity, told SportsCafe that he hadn’t seen the face of his teammates after last year’s defeat until the end of August.

But the haphazardness for the arrangement doesn’t end there since the Barabati Stadium, Odisha’s home ground, will not host a single Ranji Trophy match this year as it is in poor condition after hosting the Federation Cup, All India Football Federation (AIFF) Junior Women’s League, and Football Association of Odisha (FAO) matches over the last few months, the last of which ended last Sunday. They have now decided to host the first home match against Tripura at the Vikash College Ground in Bhubaneswar, the second home game at Bhubaneswar’s KIIT ground and third at Cuttack's DRIEMS Stadium. But all these stadiums are on the outskirts of the city which dissuades the fans from getting to the stadium to watch the games. 

A player under the condition of anonymity, told SportsCafe that he hadn’t seen the face of his teammates after last year’s defeat until the end of August.

The state cricket has been on a downward spiral thanks to the constant politics and scams by their bosses over the years. In 2013, then OCA secretary, Ashirbad Behera, among others, was interrogated by the police on the deposit collection scam of a chit fund company. And a year later, Central Bureau of India, too, grilled the OCA Secretary for his link with a chit fund organization Artha Tatwa (AT) Group, the company that was said to have given One crore as sponsorship money for the first edition of the Odisha Premier League (OPL), held in 2011. However, Behera continued to run the Odisha Cricket Association, and his resignation in January still hasn’t been able to stop the rut.

To say, Odisha cricket has been openly sabotaged would not be a far-fetched statement. Earlier, there were times, when teams from all over the country, sometimes featuring former India cricketers, came over to play club cricket in Odisha in the presence of thousands of spectators. It was quite a common sight of players diving on barren outfields to save a run at the cost of severe injuries, which made for a compelling viewing. The thriving grassroots culture reflected on the state team’s fortune and Odisha qualified for the Ranji Trophy semifinals in 2000-01, and Debasish Mohanty, Sanjay Raul, and Shiv Sundar Das went on to represent India at the highest level. Pravanjan Mullick played for Board President’s XI, and Rashmi Ranjan Parida and Sanjay Satpathy turned up for India A. Then Hrishikesh Bangari, Rakesh Mohanty, and Bignesh Mohanty played for India Under-19. 

Their progress beyond the zonal level in such a small window was considered as a logical progression for the state’s talents after Ranjib Biswal and Sritam Das initiated the trend with India Under-19 appearances in the late 1980s. However, the killing of club culture also meant a link connecting batches of cricketers was destroyed and the competitive streak has died. So, it has become paramount for the association to stop the mess at the earliest for the betterment of the game. 

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