With so many state of the art cricket academies mushrooming across India, it is easy to forget that, not long ago, grassroots coaching was the domain of individuals with unconditional love for the game. Staying true to Dronacharya’s ideologies, they gave their heart and soul to the job of grooming young talent, some of them did this as part of their job with a school or college or club, some did it because they just wanted to – not all of them got a lot in return.
Ramakant Achrekar, of course, has become the face of that group of, mostly, men because of Sachin Tendulkar’s exploits, but many such big and small contributors dot Indian cricket’s landscape. Vasant Amladi and the effervescent Vasu Paranjape in Mumbai, Don Rangarajan in 1960s Chennai, Chandigarh-based Desh Prem Azad, who nurtured Kapil Dev, Tarak Sinha, Sanjay Bharadwaj and Sunita Sharma in New Delhi, and Sanjay Rastogi in Meerut are some of the names that come to mind straightaway.
For a long time, Kishore Mania, Kamal Ganguly and Sumit Bose formed the three pillars of cricket coaching in Odisha. While Ganguly and Bose have passed away, the flame burns as brightly as ever for the very loveable Mania sir.
The name of Pragati Sportings is synonymous with Mania sir. It’s from there that Shiv Sunder Das, who played Test cricket, Sanjay Satpathy and Basant Mohanty, both India A men, India Under-19 players Ranjib Biswal and Sritam Das, and a plethora of state-level cricketers have emerged over the years. Scratch the surface, and almost everyone who has played organised cricket in the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack over the last 40 years or attended the state-sponsored summer camps in the 1990s has some association with Mania.