Cricket camps can get monotonous but one camp here this summer, beat the odds going beyond the game to impart life skills and environmental awareness

Cricket camps in the summer are dime a dozen, with every ground, big or small, taken up with the activity. In such a scenario, for one particular camp to stand out, it will take some doing. But over at the Chandragupta Maurya Ground in Jayanagar and the NRA Ground in Jayamahal, for 10 days in April, nearly 100 kids, including 15 girls, all in the age group of 14 to 17 years, were part of a set of camps that took on a far different hue from the rest.

Part of the Green Wicket program, an initiative launched during the India-Australia ODI at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Dec 1, 2013, when the respective Indian and Australian captains, M.S. Dhoni and George Bailey, were presented the official T-shirts by the then KSCA president Anil Kumble, these cricket camps were not just about cricket alone. In fact they were not even for cricketers in the normal sense.

The trainees were instead a bunch of kids picked from the under-privileged sections of Bangalore, and the training, both cricket and otherwise, provided free of charge. The idea behind the camps was simple. GIZ, a German government undertaking, that works closely with the Government of India and Government of Karnataka on environmental issues, decided to do in Bangalore what had been successfully attempted in countries such as Brazil – use sport as a vehicle to spread environmental lessons. The only change was that cricket took the place of football here.

Starting with an introductory tour of the Chinnaswamy Stadium, thanks to the largesse of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, and highlighted by talks from former Indian left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi and former Karnataka off-spinner R. Ananth, the trainees, provided with free uniforms, kits and nutrition, were taught the basics of cricket.

During the two hours on each of the 10 mornings, the trainees for the first time in their otherwise tough lives, were introduced to proper cricket equipment, the feel of the leather cricket ball and so on.

The intricate laws of the game too formed part of the lessons. M.P. Ganesh, the former Indian hockey captain and Olympian, who is presently the CEO of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, kicked off the program. “I ran away from home when I was barely out of my teens to join the Indian Army as a sepoy. But then I dared to dream and so despite all the hardships, I went on to lead the Indian (hockey) team and now I stand in front of you as the KSCA CEO,” Ganesh told them. “You people are fortunate to be getting such an opportunity (be a part of the summer camps) and I hope you will make best use of it not only to learn about cricket but also become good human beings.” he added. At the NRA ground, former India cricketer and Karnataka star Sunil Joshi spoke to the trainees about his journey to the top. “I started like most of you guys, with nothing but determination. I had to take buses and trains to reach my practice ground from my town but then all the hard work paid off,” said Joshi.

“It is a question of believing in oneself first and then putting in the necessary hard work,” Joshi explained to the star-struck kids. “And to play well, you need to remain healthy, for which you have ensure personal hygiene,” he added. Having won them over with cricket, expert NGO personnel then took over, teaching them personal hygiene, the importance of staying healthy, the need to conserve water – all by way of practical, everyday examples. Slowly but surely each one of the trainees turned into Green Ambassadors.