No level playing field: Delhi cricket body allows only local players

To give more exposure to local talent, Delhi cricket does not allow players from outside Delhi, including the NCR, to play in its domestic leagues. Cricket players and coaches debate the consequences of this exclusionary rule

India squad gets Umesh Yadav, Shreyas Iyer and Shahbaz Ahmed for T20 series against South Africa

The first match of the three-match series will be played in Thiruvananthapuram from 7 pm on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty)

Delhi is one of India’s major cricket nurseries, having attracted talent from across northern India. However, the influx of players from outside Delhi meant a lack of opportunities for the locals, which forced the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) to stop entertaining players from outside Delhi in its domestic league set-up.

Also excluded were players from the National Capital Region (NCR), which comprises Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon, and Ghaziabad.

The DDCA had established a rule restricting outsiders to just three in a club’s playing XI in league cricket. These three could play as professionals and weren’t eligible to qualify for Delhi teams. The rule was first put into practice when the DDCA was under the charge of High Court-appointed administrator Vikramjit Sen from early 2017 to mid-2018.

However, it appears that the rule remains ineffective at the ground level as plenty of players, who do not have the Delhi domicile proof, were able to sneak into the probables’ list for the Delhi under-19 team released this month. This is despite assuring respective clubs that they are eligible to play as local Delhi players.

Elimination round

The move has left the DDCA with the tedious task of sifting the eligible from the ineligible.

Vice-chairman of the DDCA League Committee Ahmad Tameem says, “Around 50 players out of 200-odd probables selected could not provide any proof of their domicile in Delhi or age. This was despite the trials – involving 900-odd players – being only for those from Delhi. It is clear that they aren’t from here but were sent by their clubs as locals.”

Adding to the confusion was the fact that some genuine Delhi residents could not submit proofs in time. “For them, we had to extend the deadline by a couple of days.” He is also a part of the team in charge of sifting eligible players from the 203 players selected.

The documents of almost 200 players for the under-16 group are yet to be checked. Officials say they may find ineligible players there too.

The DDCA, for its various age-group and senior teams, has to follow the rules laid out by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for outsiders. As per the rules, “Any outside player wanting to play for Delhi should have taken admission to a Delhi school or educational institution before September 1 of the previous year. In case of an employee, he should have joined a registered company in Delhi before September 1 of the previous year. He also needs to show proof of Delhi residence and a bank account into which his salary has been transferred.”

The state body has used the same rules for its DDCA league which, till a few years ago, used to see many players from outside the state.

No uniform policy

Some top coaches, who run academies from where players play for DDCA league clubs, admitted under the condition of anonymity that this rule isn’t being followed. Some admitted to Patriot that they weren’t even aware such a rule existed.

The struggle to provide proof of residence and the coaches’ admission shows the inefficacy of the rule that is also being criticized by those who are aware of it.

Coach Phoolchand Sharma, who runs an academy in Noida and had trained several state-level and IPL players like pacer Shivam Mavi, witnessed a couple of his wards get rejected from the under-19 team this year due to their inability to provide proof of being either Delhiites or studying in Delhi.

He is critical of the law that restricts outsiders, especially those from NCR, to play for the state.

Three of Phoolchand’s wards made it to the probables’ list for under-19, but only one could fulfill the criteria of providing proofs. The other two of his wards, who got rejected, belong to Noida.

He says, “This rule makes no sense. NCR is an extension of Delhi. The players from here should be included in Delhi teams. They should be allowed to play the league without restriction as it is the cricket centre. We have seen Delhi boys play for other teams.”

One of his wards, Harsh Tyagi, a Delhiite who was rejected by the Delhi state body over age-related issues after having represented Delhi and India under-19s, has found a place in the Railways first-class side.

Cross-border movement

It is not unusual for players from one state to play for other states, provided they fulfill the Board’s aforementioned criteria as mentioned above, or are taken as one of the limited numbers of professionals allowed by BCCI in a team.

Delhi’s case is unique. As a state, it borders so many towns which are part of NCR but lie in different states.

Mumbai and Vidarbha are both parts of Maharashtra, but each has a team distinct from the one fielded by Maharashtra in the Indian domestic circuit.

Mumbai cannot take any player directly from outside its jurisdiction even within Maharashtra without the fulfillment of the criteria.

“For someone from any part of Maharashtra to qualify to play for Mumbai, he has to first register with the Mumbai Cricket Association and show that he lives in the Mumbai jurisdiction”, says Sanjay Naik of the Mumbai Cricket Association.

A somewhat similar rule – though not as strict – is being applied in Delhi to ensure that locals get the maximum opportunity.

No quid pro quo

Despite critics like Phoolchand, there are some who are in favour of players from only Delhi being allowed to play in Delhi. Coach Madan Sharma, who runs his academy at St Mark’s School, Meera Bagh, says that the rules should be followed strictly.

“I think it will be unfair if too many players from outside are allowed to play in Delhi and represent Delhi. For example, if rules are relaxed, then a player from Faridabad can play for either Haryana or Delhi, whereas a Delhiite won’t be allowed to play for and in Haryana”, says Sharma, who has coached India batsman Shikhar Dhawan.

“Recently, Haryana had organised the Pataudi Trophy, which is their domestic intra-district tournament. However, no Delhi player could make it to any district side and represent it. So, why allow someone from Gurgaon or Faridabad the option to play in Delhi? As it is, there aren’t many spots available in clubs and the Delhi player pool is big”, he added.

Being one of the top state cricket teams, Delhi doesn’t accept guest professionals, as allowed by BCCI, like smaller or weaker states do to ramp up quality. In fact, it supplies such cricketers to other states. That leaves only one option for outsiders to play: to qualify through domicile.

Back in 2013, a fracas emerged after pacer Navdeep Saini, who has since then played two Tests, eight ODIs, and 11 T20Is for India, was drafted into the Delhi side by then skipper Gautam Gambhir. The two practiced at the same academy and he was considered a quality bowler by Gambhir.

Haryana’s pace bowler Navdeep Saini was drafted into the Delhi side by then skipper Gautam Gambhir / Photo: Twitter

Saini, who hails from Karnal in Haryana, hadn’t played cricket in the domestic league needed to qualify to play for Delhi, and his sudden inclusion was opposed by a section of the DDCA led by former India and Delhi skipper Bishan Bedi on matters of principle.

Shravan Kumar, who runs the Rohtak Road Gymkhana Club academy, and has trained India pacer Ishant Sharma at his academy, says, “We don’t want incidents like Saini’s to repeat. Drafting other players [even if they complete the qualification criteria] affects the morale of other players. Someone who has come up through the state ranks, playing the under-16s and under-19s or playing the league in the Capital for a few years, will be hard done by someone who has just emerged out of nowhere and taken his place in the state or club team. Suddenly he is made to realize, he is not good enough.”

Kumar points out the other reason. “Saini might have played for India as Gambhir so often says to vindicate his decision. But in my opinion, he hasn’t won many matches for Delhi. Once you are drafting a player, you have to also see what he can do or does for the state.”

AN Sharma, coach of former India and Delhi player Virender Sehwag, says, “Players who come from outside, sometimes don’t stick here for long and serve the state.”

DDCA Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) member Gursharan Singh, a former India international and a Delhi player says, “There is no dearth of talent within Delhi as you have seen plenty of cricketers rising to India level recently.”

 

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Khurram Habib
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