The month of July used to be an exciting time for a Mumbai cricketer. It was a period in which the annual Dr H D Kanga Cricket League kicked off. It kept cricketers, administrators, groundsmen, umpires, scorers and even media persons busy till October when the champions would claim honours in Divisions A to G.
It’s different this year because the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) is expected to start the League in September. It will be played in a new format; exact details yet to be made public.
Former India and Mumbai captain Dilip Vengsarkar sounded horrified by the decision to take away the monsoon flavour from the tournament he enjoyed playing in right from the early 1970s to the early 1990s — for one team in the ‘A’ division — Dadar Union Sporting Club.
Vengsarkar has now taken charge of the Matunga club and built an impressive pavilion apart from forming a team and initiating a coaching facility.
The 65-year-old tournament, according to experts, had lost its sheen, significance and sanctity.
In April this year, club secretaries and some cricketers were called by the MCA for a presentation of the proposed format. Vengsarkar was not present for the presentation. It is learnt the majority in the audience were in agreement to the proposed new format.
Excerpts from an interview with the former MCA vice-president:
Would you say that you are horrified by the decision to remove the monsoon thrust on the Kanga League?
Absolutely! We as cricketers used to look forward to the Kanga League as it was the curtain raiser (to the season) and since the last match of the season was played by say, end of May. So there used to be a gap of almost two months and we felt the gap was too big. In fact, at Dadar Union, we would get together and indulge in some useful fielding practice when the rains took a break and that was attended by the entire team.
The authorities reckon playing the tournament in the monsoon months is no longer feasible because grounds are not ready and most of the time the monsoons ruin any chances of matches. All this contributes to a chaotic situation. Your comment?
Well, the red soil is spread by end of May or in the first week of June before the first showers. The grounds are ready by the end of June to play. Sure, of late, the monsoon has played spoilsport, but I guess out of 13 matches, at least seven or eight could easily be played. There were some seasons where even five matches required for promotion/relegation of the teams could not be played, but those were rare cases.
There is also the problem of players’ availability and desire to play the League. Many top sides struggle to make up a playing XI. To what level can you understand this problem?
I don’t buy that argument, as many teams have 17-18 players in their line-ups. Of course, everyone would like to be in the playing XI, but that’s not always possible. Players must show patience and loyalty to their club. Before the participation of a couple of clubs in the league a few years ago, the players would play for the same team for years till they were lured by these clubs by offering financial benefits. That practice has completely changed the attitude of some players and has spoilt the atmosphere.
A few years ago, even Dadar Union struggled to field 11 players...
You are right. I believe it’s important for the club secretaries to take interest in the wellbeing of the club and its teams that participate in many tournaments. When that’s no longer there, the players too lose interest in playing for the club. Besides, every club must build a team by inducting young, fresh talent year after year because if you play the same team for years and when the players retire around the same time, a vacuum is created and the club finds it difficult to fill. If a club has its own coaching facilities and grooms young players, the transition is smooth.
Dadar Union at present has as many as 20 players in its stable. We have started our own coaching facility under Vasoo Paranjape, Sanjay Gaitonde and Baban Parab. This is free-of-cost and many promising youngsters have emerged from it. In fact, we have been promoted to the ‘B’ division and the players were looking forward to win and come into the ‘A’ division this season.
What were your plans for this Kanga League in terms of team composition?
In fact, we had a few team meetings with players and coaches that never happened a few years ago. We have appointed Surya Yadav, who is playing for some time now for Dadar Union, as captain of the team. Vasoo was to look after the team during matches and I am sure his sheer presence would have boosted the confidence of players. In fact, I was keen to have a couple of experienced players in the team, but everyone felt the youngsters we have are good enough to do the job.
You have an emotional attachment to the Kanga League. What would be your three-point plan to improve things in this tournament?
I am a traditionalist. I would go back to the days when there was no restriction on the leg side field. It’s up to the batsman to keep the ball down or drop his wrists and take it on the chest or hook/pull while playing short-pitched deliveries. It requires skill as well as guts and the Kanga League wickets test the very best. If the match is stopped due to rain, the umpires must be told to start the game after looking at the bowlers’ run-up only and if it is fit to play, then the game must go on. Presently, umpires wait for the wicket and the outfield to dry up and as a result, crucial time is wasted. It’s a monsoon tournament and should be treated as one. There could also be a debate on whether the 14 teams should be divided into two groups and play the final among the top two teams or lessen the number of teams in one division or stay put with the same format.
You played the ‘A’ division for only one club - Dadar Union. What are the memories which can never fade away?
Dadar Union has inculcated a sense of belonging, discipline, hard work and a winning habit in me. I have taken great pride in playing for the club. I started in the 1973-74 season for Dadar Union and we won Kanga League for five consecutive years convincingly. Vasoo Paranjape was a great captain and motivator. He was selfless and always helped the team and players whenever the need arose. At the age of 75, he is still at the nets before everybody. That’s his love and passion for the game. I guess his is the last generation of coaches who do it out of sheer sincerity and commitment to the game. I remember travelling in Vasoo’s Fiat car along with V S Patil sir, Sunil Gavaskar, Ramnath Parkar, Urmikant Mody and Milind Rege for Kanga League matches. It was a great fun.
Besides, we won the Talim, Purshottam and Comrade Shields for many years. Winning was a forgone conclusion for us. Such was Dadar Union’s dominance.