Run out: SAI academies in Delhi face coach crunch

- October 3, 2022
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

While private academies flourish, less privileged youngsters who depend on state-run facilities will be left high and dry if the indifferent attitude of the government continues

Photo: Unsplash

In March next year, one of the only three remaining National Institute of Sports (NIS) qualified cricket coaches in the Capital’s government-run academies will retire. By February 2026, all three would be gone, leaving many trainees from humble backgrounds in the lurch.

Sports Authority of India (SAI), the country’s apex sports body, would have, by then, taken away these trainees’ chance of getting comprehensive cricket coaching free of charge and left them at the mercy of private academies.

Cricket coaching in the Capital nowadays is largely in the hands of private academies, run as commercial set-ups. The trainees pay as much as Rs 2,000-3,000 a month — excluding kit and equipment. The fees at certain academies can go up to even Rs 10,000-15,000 a month.

The SAI-run centres at the National Stadium and Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (JNS) are the only ones that evade this trend and offer coaching with only a registration fee of Rs 100. These centres, plus the one at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium (IGI) which has now been closed down, had produced or at least provided early grooming to many big names in domestic and international cricket through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, all at a reasonable monthly fee.

“From Rs 25 and then Rs 50, the fees had increased to Rs 250 a month in these government-run academies before it was waived off recently with only a registration fee levied,” says MP Singh, a retired NIS-trained senior coach who groomed first-class and international cricketers at the National Stadium from 1989 till his retirement in 2021.

Yet, as well-heeled parents make a beeline to enroll their kids in the expensive academies which are mushrooming everywhere due to spiralling interest in cricket, the affordable SAI academies are facing an uncertain future.

No succession plan

Raju Tandon, who used to coach at IGI Stadium and now coaches at JNS, will retire in March next year. Anita Mishra, who coaches at the National Stadium, will hang up her boots in mid-2025 while Mohan Sharma, who looks after the cricket academy at President’s Estate (not open to the public), will have to quit by February 2026.

There has been no appointment of coaches since 1992 when Tandon, Sharma, Mishra and Baljeet Singh – of the 1992 NIS batch — were appointed along with some from the 1991 batch like Biju George, Yoginder Puri and Lallu Mishra. The last appointment being as long ago as 30 years means all the current NIS coaches at SAI centres are nearing superannuation.

What is worse is that the NIS in Patiala, tasked with training coaches for various sports, has done away with the 10-and-a-half month diploma course in cricket coaching – the most comprehensive course in the country that prepared the coaches mentioned above.

“We haven’t been conducting this course since the last two years (from 2020-21 onwards). The demand was simply not there,” says Colonel Raj Singh Bishnoi, who heads NIS, Patiala.

“We were getting a batch of only 10-15 trainees. We needed between 30 and 50 to make up the batch,” he adds.

Col Bishnoi’s explanation appears weak since the number of trainees in a batch were not always between 30 and 50 before.

The 1992 batch, in which Tandon, Mishra, Sharma had graduated, had just 18 trainees while the 1973 batch in which Arun Bhardwaj, one of the most respected coaches in the Capital who coached at JNS, graduated had just 16 trainees.

The SAI official’s explanation appears to cover up the institution’s seeming lack of interest in continuing the course at NIS.

Government apathy

Some senior coaches have said that since the cash-rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has started to offer Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 courses, SAI thought to do away with its own course at NIS.

“The BCCI recognises its own course for appointment of coaches,” says Bishnoi, giving another reason for discontinuing the course.

However, those who have done both the courses – NIS and BCCI — say that the one at NIS was a far more detailed and superior one.

“I have done multiple levels with BCCI and also the 10-and-a-half month diploma with NIS. The course at NIS dealt not just with skills but also with sports psychology, pedagogy (teaching method), skills, sports science among other things. The one conducted by BCCI is short-term and doesn’t cover all aspects,” says Sanjay Bhardwaj, who has coached India internationals Gautam Gambhir, Amit Mishra and Navdeep Saini.

All of BCCI’s three levels are short-term. Level 1 is of 10 days, Levels 2 and 3 are of 15 days each. Although each level is done in a different year, the combined days of learning is just 40 days. A lot of coaches in Delhi complete Level 1 and even Level 2 and start training kids in academies.

“The most important ability that a coach needs to possess is the ability to give a good demonstration and you cannot ensure a guy giving a good demonstration in a four-day coaching course,” said Arun Bhardwaj, who passed out of NIS in 1973. Post-retirement, he is currently involved with training coaches at the Cricket Academy of Pathans among other private assignments.

“You can’t ask somebody to become a real good coach in a few days. Most coaches [nowadays] are half-baked. If you want to become a real coach, you ought to have knowledge of cricket psychology or sports psychology. Also the physiology of exercise,  tactics of the game as well as technique because cricket is basically a skill oriented game. If you don’t have skill, you can’t last long,” adds Arun Bhardwaj, who trained many Ranji Trophy players and internationals like Vijay Dahiya.

Classic training

The 73-year-old explains the training he got at NIS which helped him in coaching youngsters especially those in their formative years.

“The coaches [teaching us art of cricket coaching at NIS] used to supervise us while we batted, bowled and fielded every day. We had to maintain adequate fitness level also to show our skill level so that when we give a demonstration, it is near-perfect.

“Not only that, we were asked to conduct mock classes — we had to explain a particular skill and then demonstrate it. The most important thing is the ability to detect a fault and correct a fault which cannot be taught overnight because it takes months and years of practice before you develop the ability to detect a fault,” he says further.

“I am surprised at the bias towards cricket by the new dispensation at SAI,” he says.

MP Singh remembers the time when there were multiple qualified coaches at the SAI-run centres but then came a time when they couldn’t find even one to replace him post-retirement and instead had to shut down the academy.

“National Stadium had three coaches at one point in time while JNS also had three. There were as many as eight NIS-qualified coaches in the three centres in Delhi,” recalls Singh.

“After my retirement last year, the National Stadium was shut since there was no coach. The academy started only recently in this session when Anita Mishra joined [from Hyderabad],” he says further.

Singh, who now trains kids at the Ahlcon Public School in East Delhi, says that private academies are gaining in importance for aspiring players because the selection to various Delhi teams is often linked to them.

“In Delhi nowadays, selection is a problem. That is why there is focus on academies and parents prefer them,” he says further.

NIS head Bishnoi does say it is difficult to produce coaches of the level produced in Patiala. He says private parties have jumped in with courses on cricket coaching across the country.

“There is a difference in what we give and what academies give. Where the sports is doing well, people (private parties) jump in. They (private parties) provide coaching to coaches — like for strength and conditioning – sometimes in just three days. That’s it! There they are not bothered. NIS at least has some accountability. We look at eligibility and also conduct tests. We give a good base. There is professional development, sports science is taught.”

However, it is quite clear that SAI and its parent body, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, are least concerned and are leaving the preparation of coaches to the BCCI, an autonomous body raising its own funds, and to private academies.

That being the case, it is evident that the shortage of NIS-trained coaching staff may result in the closure of the remaining two SAI-run cricket centres in the Capital.