What the training ground lacks in terms of infrastructure and funds, it more than makes up in dedication and resilience.

Keralas own MCG This dusty cricket ground is training some top talent in the state
news Sports Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - 14:48

When it comes to sport, one of the last things one would associate with Kerala is cricket. Football, definitely. The state is not only the current holder of the Santosh Trophy, but also has produced many generations of football legends in India.

But not many people outside sporting circles in the state know that somewhere inside the Trivandrum Medical College, there is a dusty ground right opposite the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) that has been silently training talented young cricketers for the state and the national team.

The man behind this revolution is Biju George, who is presently the fielding coach of the Indian women’s cricket team.

Biju began his career in 2000 as a cricket coach under the Sports Authority of India (SAI) at the Central Stadium, Thiruvananthapuram.

“There were lots of limitations at the Central Stadium because of which I had to find a new ground for coaching,” says Biju George talking to TNM from Baroda, where he is attending a training camp for the women’s national side.

Setting up the academy

Biju managed to find a ground inside the Trivandrum Medical College and “with the permission and help from Krishna Sharma, the then principal of TMC, we managed to set up a small cricket coaching academy in their ground.”

“Setting up the academy required hardcore physical labour,” remembers Biju. “Central Stadium was undergoing some ground work, so we decided to get sand from that stadium to make our wickets in the Medical College ground or MCG, like how it is fondly known.”

“We went to the ground, collected the sand, loaded it into a small pick-up truck, went to MCG and unloaded it. And we did all of this ourselves,” says Biju.

“With the help of SAI, an astro turf was parceled all the way from Benglauru. The Telecom Department also did its part by lending us some of their posts to tie the cricket nets,” he laughs.

He adds that the physical department of TMC was of great help and support too. “They never said no for an answer whenever we went to them for help.”

Biju at MCG

Setting up the ground was far from enough to start an academy as Biju then had to start scouting schools and housing colonies for kids interested in the sport.

“I used to pray every day hoping that I would find a bunch of kids who were willing to join my academy,” he says.

Biju George and MCG have come a long way since then.

No criteria

“We have around 80 kids attending our academy today, in two batches – one in the morning and one in the evening,” says Biju, who goes on to proudly say that there is no criterion in selecting students for the academy.

“If the child is interested to learn the sport, we coach them without taking a single penny from them,” he says.

“Sometimes if we see that the child can afford to buy a cricket ball, we ask them to buy one,” says Biju. He adds that the academy needs at least 90 cricket balls every month. “Cricket balls don’t last for more than two or three days, and the cost of one decent cricket ball these days is about Rs 300, which means that in a month, we spend around Rs 27,000 just for the balls,” explains Biju.

Moreover, since the academy isn’t a profit making enterprise, money is tight.

And yet, despite all the challenges, this ground has produced some fine talents who have gone on to represent various teams in the Indian Premier League, as well as India A and India U-19 sides.

Success stories

Just a week ago, two players from MCG faced off in the IPL. Sanju Samson has been a pillar of sorts for the Rajasthan Royals over the last couple of seasons and the management’s decision to retain the boy from Thiruvananthapuram speaks volumes of the trust they have in the young player. And on the other side, the Chennai Super Kings player KM Asif, who was also a student of Biju George at MCG.

Sanju Samson training at MCG

Along with this, Sachin Baby, another product of MCG, is a member of the Royal Challengers Bangalore this season. Over the years, we have seen several cricketers from Kerala represent various teams in the IPL. Raiphi Vincent Gomez, Padmanabhan Prasanth and Prasanth Parameswaran have all been mentored by Biju at the Trivandrum Medical College ground.

When asked how some players make it to the big stage and others don’t, Biju says, “It’s purely based on hard work and dedication. Nothing else!”

“Sometimes luck and timing also play an important role. It’s also about utilizing the opportunities that come your way,” says Biju.

Talking about his experience at MCG and the impact coach Biju George has had on him, former Sunrisers Hyderabad player P Prasanth says that “everyone at MCG is like family.”

“I’ve been playing at MCG since I was 12 and, even now, whenever I’m in town, I make it a point to go and spend an entire day at the ground,” says Prasanth, who adds that even back in the day he hardly ever left the ground.

“We reach the ground as early as 6 in the morning and practice till about noon. And later, come back to the ground after lunch and that goes on till about 7 in the night,” he recalls.

The success story of MCG is also partly a story of cricket in Kerala. Today, 5 out of the 15 players of the Kerala Under-14 team hail from MCG. And 9 out of the 16 players of the Thiruvananthapuram district Under-16 team are from MCG.

A learning experience

“At the moment, we have 3 cricket nets, a bowling machine and other equipment necessary for practice, but we still are lacking in infrastructure when compared to other academies in India,” says Biju. But this doesn’t stop the coach and his players from pushing the envelope. “We may not have sufficient infrastructure, but we have plenty of dedication. We have a discipline and a system in place,” adds Biju.

When Biju is on national duty with the women’s side, he has put a system in place where experienced players organize net sessions at MCG based on the instructions given by Biju. “We have a WhatsApp group for MCG where I have given instructions on what to do. We have two players in charge of the nets and one physiotherapist in the ground. In case of any corrections for players, they send me the videos through WhatsApp and I tell them what has to be done,” he says.

Biju with Sanju Samson

The story of every player who comes to MCG is a testimony to their dedication. Earlier, players used to come from as far as Varkala and Kollam by train every morning to practice in the ground, but Biju says that now even budding cricketers from Madhya Pradesh and Dubai have started to come to MCG.

“These players rent rooms in lodges near the Medical College and take up admissions in various government colleges in the city. When not playing, they take up odd jobs, like working in hotels, catering groups, umpiring for cricket matches, etc. They eat chappatis made by jail inmates, which are sold outside at cheap rates and buy rice from ration shops,” he says.

“At MCG, we do not just help them play good cricket, but through cricket, we help them realise their potential and what they are capable of,” says an emotional Biju.

“Tomorrow, these players might not end up as a Sachin Tendulkar or a Sunil Gavaskar, but through their hardships, they will be able to realise a lot about themselves. No dream is impossible and with dedication and hard work, anything is possible!”

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