On Harbhajan’s advice, PCA conducts open trials to tap village talent

New Delhi: Most of them were raw, some hadn’t even held a leather ball in their hands before, forget about knowing the variations of grip.

The Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), with an aim to create ‘pace bowling bank’, tried out more than 1000 bowlers in open trials between June 10-21 to tap into village talent.

PCA short-listed 93 bowlers — most of them not have not even ventured out of their respective villages.

It was an idea of former India spinner Harbhajan Singh that PCA should visit the remote hamlets in the state to unearth cricketing talent.

Harbhajan, who is a Rajya Sabha MP, has been advising PCA on regaining its lost glory. He also wants the state unit to make proper utilisation of the funds it receives from the BCCI.

“I don’t think many states have done this before — Conduct open trials instead of restricting it to age-group. I wanted PCA to find raw pace bowling talents,” Harbhajan, who is currently on a break with his family told PTI.

“In Punjab, we have some of the toughest lads and I refuse to believe that we won’t have boys who can’t be as quick as an Umran Malik or a Kuldeep Sen. The idea is to find them and help them grow into good bowlers. We have already identified 90-odd boys between age-group of 16 to 24,” he added.

The Punjab state side, over the years, has had medium pacers like Sidarth Kaul, Sandeep Sharma, Baltej Dhanda. Their bowling speed is in range of 125 kmph to 135 kmph.

Since VRV Singh’s exit, Punjab has not seen a fast bowling talent who could consistently hit the 140 to 145 kmph on speed gun.

The PCA, headed by secretary Dilsher Khanna then created a road-map and appointed former national selector Harvinder Singh along with former India pacers Manpreet Singh Gony and Gagandeep Singh to scout talents for short and long-term plans.

Accordingly, PCA advertised in local newspapers and announced on local cable channels with a rider that only those players, who have never played any competitive cricket will be allowed to take part in the trials.

“It has been an enriching experience to travel across length and breadth of Punjab, visiting places ranging from Amritsar, Jalandhar, Barnala, Muktsar Sahib in search of talent.

“During our Amritsar phase of trials, we had a boy who was 6 feet 8 inches. Hum dekh ke daang rah gaye. (We were amazed to see his height). He came from a remote village. He is around 19. I will be honest, we need to even work on his action but he excites us,” Harvinder, a former Test pacer, who is heading the project said.

So how did they go about planing the trials?

“We didn’t entertain anyone who is less than 16 years of age because we wanted boys who are starting to grow muscle mass. In case of 16 to 18 year old, we emphasised on clean action and checked if there is some amount of natural speed that can be worked upon. But in this age-group, we didn’t put too much focus on height and weight as these boys will grow further,” Harvinder explained.

But in the above 18 category, they didn’t pick anyone who is less than 5 feet 10 inches.

“Your vertical growth normally stops after 18 and hence in the above 18 category, we have selected boys with a minimum height of 5 feet 10 inches, preferably 6 feet.

“The typical Punjabi munda you can say, strong and well-built. We didn’t want to see any line and length bowling. Just check if the action is clean and possesses raw pace or not. We were amazed that some of the boys from villages, who have only played with tennis balls had such good speed,” Harvinder said.

PCA divided 20 districts into six zones with each zone having three or four districts. The idea was to cut down on travelling time. Like in Amritsar, we also had boys coming from Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran.

From Amritsar leg, 14 boys out of 200 were selected while picked five in Hoshiarpur out of 125, who appeared for trials. Jalandhar had the best response with 250 boys appearing for trials and around 34 were selected.

So how many among the 93 do you think will be ready to play board level cricket?

“The plan is to have a 15-day camp in Mohali and prune it to 50 and place them in three groups. At the age group level, my experience tells me that there are a few boys, if given at least 15 to 20 proper matches, will be ready for BCCI U-19 national meet in four months’ time,” Harvinder said.

Harbhajan, on his part, said that PCA will bear their accommodation and all other expenses during the next one year and try to help them maximise their potential.

“The BCCI gives enough money to state units and my idea is that it should be invested on cricketers and that is what I have told PCA. I am hoping that Punjab cricket’s glory days will be back and we can present Indian cricket with some fine fast bowlers,” Harbhajan said.