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Visit Mumbai thrice a week or no cricket academy, Shiv Sena tells Bhajji

Quick to capitalise on cricketer Harbhajan Singh’s publicly declared interest in coaching aspiring cricketers in the city, Shiv Sena leader Aadesh Bandekar, who happens to be president of the trust that runs BMC’s Andheri Sports Complex, has welcomed the off-spinner with arms wide open, but not without ensuring that the deal is profitable at the BMC’s end.

Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan Singh met municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte last month with a request to help him set up a cricket academy. File Pic/AFP

Officials are in the process of finalising a deal that would allow the Turbanator to use the premises of the BMC-run Andheri Sports Complex for his cricket coaching centre provided that Bhajji makes his presence felt at the academy at least three days a week, when he is not playing domestic or international matches.

Harbhajan Singh
In return for the plot, Harbhajan Singh has offered to coach BMC school students for free. File pic

Aadesh Bandekar, Shiv Sena leader and Shahaji Raje Krida Sankul Trust president, said, “We are trying to enter into a contract, the drafting of which is in its early stages, where his personal presence would be required thrice a week when he is not playing national or international-level matches. This would motivate the BMC school kids who want to be coached by him. This is a good proposal, which needs to be developed in a better way. We are also thinking of other ways in which this can benefit children who are interested in cricket.”

Harbhajan Singh visited the BMC office on February 11, to work out nitty gritties for his acquisition of a plot of land within the complex premises. He earlier made clear that he was favourably disposed towards a plot on Shahaji Raje Krida Sankul at Andheri (West), better known as Andheri Sports Complex. In return for a plot of land on which to train, Bhajji had offered to coach BMC school students free of cost, so that talented young athletes who would otherwise not have access to coaching can train at the centre, which in turn could lead to their participation in district and zonal level matches.

But determined to drive a hard bargain, the Shiv Sena-run BMC wants more than just free training for its students. A special clause included in the contract makes it clear that Bhajji, the crowd-puller, has to make personal appearances at the academy. Mayor Sunil Prabhu said, “The contract is in its early stages. He had initially promised that he would be coming personally to the centre so that aspiring sportspersons can be motivated just by his presence. We are still deciding on the proposal as the feasibility of the plot is to be checked, but everything will be according to the contract.”

A BMC official however failed to drum up equal confidence about the star athlete’s presence, saying, “It won’t be possible for a cricketer like him to be here personally. This means that the students won’t learn directly from him, but from coaches appointed by him. We don’t want to encourage such false promises so it is better to have a legal contract.” At present, the cricketer is playing in the India-Australia series. The star tweaker who recently reached a milestone by playing his 100th Test match, is struggling with his form in the wake of a slew of poor performances on the field.  

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