Back in 1970, two men who were to lay the foundation of an iconic cricket club-cum-academy came face to face in a cricket match at Tibbiya College grounds in Karol Bagh.
Shravan Kumar, who lived at Rohtak Road near Liberty cinema, was representing Hero Club, and Tarak Sinha, who resided at Birla Mills quarters in Kamla Nagar, was representing Sonnet Club with friend Pramod Jain, who lived across the road from his house.
“That day we decided to join hands at the Sonnet Club and nurture it as a club holding the nets at Ajmal Khan Park,” recalls Kumar of his meeting with Sinha, who died in 2021.
Sinha had been running the Sonnet Club along with Jain since 1969.
The club eventually became a factory producing international cricketers like Surinder Khanna, Raman Lamba, Randhir Singh, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma, Atul Wassan, Ashish Nehra, Aakash Chopra, Sanjeev Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, woman cricketer Anjum Chopra and most recently Rishabh Pant among other stalwarts like Bhaskar Pillay, who have performed well in domestic cricket.
But after over a half a century of its existence and two years after the death of one of its founders Sinha, who ran the club solely since 1985 when Kumar and Jain separated, the club faces uncertain future as it struggles for a place for practice.
In fact, this weekend (May 6 & 7) will be the first in many years at least, that there will be no nets for the club trainees at the Sri Venkateswara College on Benito Juarez Marg in Dhaula Kuan, where Sonnet has been practicing non-stop for the last 23 years.
The college authorities had issued eviction notice to them, asking them to stop practicing after April 30, which was last Sunday.
“We have requested the college authorities to allow us to practice, but there has been no response yet. As a result, we have announced closure of practice for this Saturday,” said Devender Sharma, who has been associated with the club since 1992-93 and calls this the first time during his association with the club that he will see a weekend go by without practice.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the club was staring at the busiest season of the year when it attracts hordes of students during the summer holidays.
It has been learnt that Pant as well as Virender Sehwag, whose sons practice at the club, have also put in a word to the college authorities. However, it appears that the college authorities haven’t been moved.
“There are close to 100 trainees who come to the club for practice and they all have been left without any place to practice. Most parents are worried and many came to visit me last Sunday (April 30), which was the last day of our practice,” added Sharma.
Even Pant had, last week, tweeted about the loss of venue.
“It is so disheartening to see my club that has produced so many international cricketers over the years and continues to do so has been served an eviction notice…. We have always followed the rules set by the college. I would like to request the governing bodies of Venkateswara College to reconsider this as Sonnet Club is not just a club, it is like a heritage institution and a home for many budding cricketers,” tweeted Pant, who is recovering from a career-threatening injury suffered during an accident late last year.
Despite there being a wave of sympathy among many, there are those who feel that it was only a matter of time before the college would send an eviction notice. The first notice was served in January.
“These agreements are done on contract basis. It is the college’s prerogative since it is their property. Tarak Sinha was a big name in cricket coaching circle. He was handling the affairs with the college. After his passing, the authorities may have felt that they don’t need the club anymore,” said Surinder Khanna, former India international, to Patriot.
Another ex-India player Ajay Sharma said, “Sinha’s name carried a lot of weight in Delhi cricket.”
The college is located in one of the posh areas of south Delhi. It has high rental value and in times when there is space crunch and cricket academies are flourishing by the day in the Capital, Venkateswara College grounds nets are a prime location.
There are many in Delhi cricket circles and private people outside it who are eyeing the college ground for an academy-cum-ground and, according to officials, willing to pay more than what Sonnet is paying to the college.
As of now, Sharma, who is sole in charge of Sonnet, has no place to go.
“We have tried a couple of schools nearby but there has been no headway. Every one is running an academy and it is hard to get a place in these areas. There is an option in Gurugram, as we have been invited to hold nets there, but that will be too far for us and many of the trainees won’t be able to come that far,” said Devender.
Prior to Venkateswara, the club’s practice was held at many places. It started at Birla Mills in north Delhi before shifting to Ajmal Khan Park, where the practice was held for about two decades. It then moved to DCM ground in Karol Bagh and then shifted to Rajdhani College before moving to Picnic Hut in Ashok Vihar.
It finally came to Sri Venkateswara College and stayed here for the longest.
But with no grounds available in south Delhi from where many trainees hail, and the options available far off, it appears that one of Delhi cricket’s biggest nurseries is staring at a bleak future.