“ Arey Munda phir se interview? Tera toh bada sa photo kichvaayenge. Ek pavilion banayenge tere naam ka ” (Interview again? We will take a big photo of yours and name a pavilion after you), screams a player from the Jharkhand dressing room. The cries are directed at Prakash Rameshwar Munda, the first cricketer of tribal origin to make it to the Jharkhand Ranji squad.
The 24-year-old’s, by his own admission, is no rags-to-riches story. Hailing from a middle-class family in Ranchi, he was introduced to sports by his weight-lifter father. But for a State whose creation was primarily to benefit indigenous communities, the symbolism of his selection cannot be downplayed. “Many of my friends from tribal communities are on Facebook,” he says. “They talk to me and tell me ‘You are making us proud. We too want to play.’ So I ask them to go to the coaching centre, then the clubs, the leagues, the districts and so on.”
It’s a career path Munda has himself followed. Starting from the Sports Authority of India coaching centre near Birsa Munda Stadium in Ranchi, he has come through the under-14, 15, 17, 19 and 23 levels until a match-saving century in Col. C.K. Nayudu trophy in late 2014 put him into the Ranji reckoning. And in his debut match against Andhra in January 2015 he made a half-century.Cricket is everything
“My dream was to become a pilot. But when I started practising cricket, I slowly started bunking school,” he says tongue-in-cheek. “I used to tell at home that I had stomach ache and then would go off to play. Then I gradually wanted to make it big in cricket and it has become everything for me now.”
“Financially my father supported me throughout. I have four sisters and a brother. But I was never deprived of anything. If I wanted a pad or a bat, either my sisters or brother would forego what they needed, to give me what I wanted.”
In a broader sense, such stories are emblematic of how Jharkhand has risen in cricketing terms. Traditionally associated with hockey and football, cricket is taking root with a number of talented youngsters eager to fight it out. Ishan Kishan, India’s current under-19 captain and Virat Singh, till recently the skipper, both play for the State.
“These kids are mentally very tough,” says coach Rajiv Kumar. “If you ask them to do something, they will do it.” “Munda is very hardworking,” he adds. “Initially we didn’t pick him because he was a bit slow and overweight. But he has made tremendous progress. In the last two months his graph has gone from 50 to 80. As I said, tell them to do something, they will.”
“His selection means a lot to the locals who will now think that they too can make a career in cricket. He is an inspiration; even to people who might not have looked at any sport till now.”