Amid the gloom, the junoon for cricket in a small Indian town

Raghuram and Leelakrishna, 14 and 12 respectively, are brothers. Away from school hours, they go to a cricket academy not far from home, in Dharwad, in northern Karnataka, to train. Sunday was a memorable day for the boys, as they got to see some prominent cricketers, and get a few autographs and selfies. All in their neck of the woods – Dharwad to Hubballi is a half-hour’s drive – which is not a regular destination for international cricketers.

But that’s where the second India A vs New Zealand A four-day game was on. There wasn’t much cricket because of the rain, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the spectators who turned up. If anything, they created a buzz around the game. On the first and fourth days of the game, they filled the colourful seats and the space inside the tents around the ground. And when they spotted a player or two – Indian or from New Zealand – the excitement went through the roof. Perhaps because of the mood around a non-international contest such as this one, that too one where little play was possible, the players were also happy to join in the fun, as KS Bharat acknowledged in a press interaction after the game.

The star attractions, understandably in this IPL age, were Umran Malik and Rajat Patidar. Malik is an obvious star. He bowls at over 150kph, and is also now an India player. And Patidar, well, he was one of local IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore’s top performers this season, wasn’t he?

Raghuram and Leelakrishna had brought a miniature bat with them. By the end of it, autographs from Malik, Rahul Chahar, Patidar, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Tilak Varma, Sarfaraz Khan, Priyank Panchal and Kuldeep Yadav had found their way to it. Shardul Thakur didn’t oblige, and that, they said, was the big disappointment.

“We used to watch these cricketers on TV; this is the first time we have seen them in the flesh,” Raghuram said. “Watching them, I could figure out what they do, how they warm up and train, before going out to play. They don’t show all that on TV. At the academy, they train us to bat, bowl, field, but seeing the real players is a new experience.

“I saw live, from a distance, where the fast bowlers pitch the ball, how the batters watch the ball…”

Harshith, a 12-year-old legspinner who likes to bat, too, had a similar story to tell. It was a first time at a match of this level for him too, and the Shane Warne fan – there’s the legspin connection – got to take back Chahar’s autograph. It’s a proper – not souvenir – bat he got the autograph on, and that will be packed away now, Harshith said.

Not looking as thrilled as the boys was 16-year-old Prarthana Dikshit, a middle-order batter and part-time offspinner who trains at an academy in Hubballi. The reason for her disappointment was that she got late getting to the ground on the fourth day, having stayed back anticipating rain, but by the time she got to the ground, all the play for the day – 13 overs’ worth – was done and the rain was back.

“It was nice to catch a glimpse of Ruturaj and Umran, my favourite cricketers, but I wanted to watch them play,” she said.

Her father, Prasanna, has followed domestic cricket for many years, and was happy that first-class cricket was being played in his city. “It’s a big difference, watching cricket on TV and watching it live at the ground,” he said. “At the ground, not only do you watch cricket, but you feel it. It’s wonderful for young cricketers, like my daughters, to get a real understanding of the game. We should have more first-class cricket here.”

Daya Sagar is sub editor with ESPNcricinfo Hindi. @dayasagar95

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