Road running

How a bunch of office-goers plan to improve India's fortunes at Indoor Cricket World Cup

Even though Jesse Ryder was absent from a trial match held to select New Zealand’s squad, he could yet be in action for a second consecutive Indoor World Cup. Australia’s Clive Rose, a BBL star who had earned high praise from Kumar Sangakkara not too long ago, meanwhile, has been named as part his country’s team. Closer home, even India has started booting up and held the ‘Ifocus Systec Indoor Cricket Nationals 2022’ in Bengaluru last month as final preparations before their squad is announced.

All eyes may be on the outdoor ICC Cricket World Cup to be held in Australia from the middle of October, but immediately prior to that, Cricket Australia (CA) is set to host the eleventh edition of the Indoor Cricket World Cup – a supercharged version of the sport which is also set to offer some storylines like these. The 2022 Indoor Cricket World Cup is expected to be the biggest ever event in the history of the sport with potential viewership across the globe.

“I used to play with the likes of KL Rahul, Karun Nair and Shreyas Gopal till the U17 level in Karnataka zonals. In 2011, I got opportunities to play outdoor cricket for my state and indoor cricket for my country at the same time. So I had to make a choice. Some Ranji cricketers keep asking me about indoor cricket, but the two formats have different skillset requirements and one player can’t play both together,” said Dhanush Bhaskar.

New Zealand’s Jesse Ryder with the Indian team members on the sidelines of the 2017 Indoor Cricket World Cup – Jesse Ryder played indoor cricket for New Zealand after his outdoor cricket playing days were over. (Instagram/IIC)

One of the most recognisable names in the Indian indoor cricket team, the team’s most capped player, Bhaskar failed to graduate to playing alongside KL Rahul for India but has had some great adventures of his own over the last decade. He played against South African international Junior Dala at the 2011 Indoor World Cup, and New Zealand international Jesse Ryder at the 2017 Indoor World Cup. But perhaps more importantly, he has been at the centre of the silent rise of the Indian team in this format.

‘India now world’s 4th best indoor team

Indoor cricket as an organised sport, overseen by the World Indoor Cricket Federation, has been in existence for many years. Australia have been dominating the sport, having won all 11 World Cups held since then. Some of their greatest cricketers like Ricky Ponting, the Waugh brothers, Michael Clarke and Steven Smith have all dabbled in this format in the initial days of their careers.

The sport has taken more time to take root in the subcontinent because of the prevalence of ‘gully cricket’, which has always had its own set of rules which are impossible to recreate in other geographical locations. India made their first appearance at the Indoor Cricket World Cup in 2000, but it was not until 2011 that they registered their first win at the event.

“At the 2011 World Cup closing ceremony, we were feted like we had actually won the World Cup. Then in 2014, we finished 4th in the whole tournament. That has been our best finish so far,” said Bhaskar.

India and England in action during the Plate final at the 2014 World Cup - India won this match to finish 4th. (Instagram/IIC)

India and England in action during the Plate final at the 2014 World Cup – India won this match to finish 4th. (Instagram/IIC)

The Indian team has made rapid strides since then. They beat Sri Lanka to be crowned Asian champions in 2018 – the first continental event to be held in indoor cricket – but there remains little trace of that win due to lack of media coverage. Later that year, India came the closest they have to beating Australia, losing by 7 runs to them in the Australasia Cup.

“Australia are the undisputed best team of this format, they have been playing this game for 40 years, they have age-group cricket. Then there are New Zealand and South Africa. India can now be said to be the fourth-best team in the world,” said Daivik Rai, another Indian player who has been part of the indoor team’s fortunes for the last decade or so.

As the high level of the competition showed at the recent Nationals in Bengaluru, India could finally get a team together to beat the Aussies at this World Cup.

A constant search for new sponsors

But despite the success on the field (or should we say, on the courts) it seems not much has changed for the team regarding what they need to do before every World Cup. Apart from making sure that they give their best to make it into the national team, like every time, all the players are having to pitch in to ensure that the team has sponsors to get to the World Cup.

“We have to get sponsorships before every World Cup and every international tournament. Our matches weren’t live-streamed earlier, so sponsors asked what they were going to get out of paying for us. We have made massive strides in ensuring all India’s matches are live-streamed these days, so much so that the entire nationals were shown on YouTube this time,” said Daivik.

The current federation overseeing the sport in India – the IISF (Indian Indoor Sports Foundation) – has successfully overseen the establishment of several indoor cricket training facilities across the country over the last few years but still needs to pay out of their own pockets every time an international series comes along.

“Cricket Australia (CA) is funding their whole indoor cricket team for the first time this World Cup. CA have taken the lead in marketing indoor cricket as their fourth product after Tests, ODIs and T20s, and other countries will follow suit. Indoor cricket is the future, it is designed for where the world is headed. It’s a high-intensity one-and-half-hours-long cricket streaming experience,” said IISF chairman Ajay Naik, who is adamant about striking an optimistic note in his search for sponsors.

“At the moment, our aim is to fly the tricolour as high as possible at the Melbourne World Cup and hope we are visible to sponsors,” he said.

For now, the federation continues to pay the team’s expenses from their own pockets, with the players themselves also having to pitch in from time to time.

Balancing World Cup ambitions with office jobs

The other challenge in popularising the sport in the country is its hyper-locality in Bengaluru. Most of the players in India’s team are from the IT offices in this city. It is a group of energetic office-goers who met up after work in the city’s indoor arenas who have made the sport their own.

Delhi, West Bengal, Kerala, and Maharashtra are the few other states which have come up with similar indoor cricket arenas of their own in recent years, but according to the players, 80-85% of the national team still comes from Bengaluru’s arenas.

“We have been playing together for so long that we have mastered the sport. Our performances are now up there, but lack of visibility for our achievements have still held us back,” said Bhaskar.

Of course, then there is the challenge of balancing their indoor cricket careers with their nine-to-five jobs at computer desks. There is still no money to be made from playing indoor cricket, even though this is possibly as much if not more physically taxing a version of the sport, so all the players have day jobs.

“I told the office before joining that I’d have to take such special leaves. They don’t complain, people at work ask me if there’s a chance they can watch my matches this time,” said Bhaskar.

Rules of the Game

Entire matches are played within enclosed nets. Matches are of 90-minute duration.

Eight players form a side. All 8 players need to bat in pairs for a duration of 4 overs. All 8 players must bowl a minimum of 2 overs.

Each innings is of 16 overs. A batter is not out after he is dismissed. He has to bat four overs irrespective of the number of times he’s dismissed in that period.

Runs are awarded based on which part of the net his shot hits. To complete a single, the batter does not need to reach the bowler’s end, he needs to reach a line that is halfway down the pitch.

A team is never all out and must mandatorily play the entire 16 overs even if the ‘runs target’ has been reached.

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