By K.R. Nayar
It is well known that India produces cricket talent in abundance. The future Rohit Sharmas, Virat Kohlis, and Mohammed Shamis do not emerge by accident but are shaped by cricket academies that groom talent. One such cricket academy is the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC) in Bengaluru, not far from the historic M Chinnaswamy Stadium, which I visited during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023. I realized that it was a factory that churns out cricketers.
Stepping into this academy, I felt like I was walking into a world filled with cricketers bubbling with enthusiasm to sharpen their skills. I was first escorted to a hall where nearly 300 young cricketers were listening to an inspiring talk by Irfan Sait, the Director of this academy. Sait was impressing on the youngsters the essential traits required to enjoy the game and play it with passion. Incidentally, KIOC’s slogan is: ‘making cricketers with passion.’
I managed to speak to Sait, who was swarmed by hundreds of young children, about his academy. “Nearly 2000 cricketers train here over six sessions, starting from 6.30 am till 9.30 pm,” he said as the sound of bat hitting the ball reverberated from the net practice area. “We have 34 nets and 75 coaches,” he revealed as we did a ‘walk the talk’ through the facilities of this academy.
It was a treat to watch children from the age of 6 to 10 warming up with strengthening exercises. Some of the finest cricketers that this academy has produced and those who have gone on to earn international acclaim had started off like one among the young children under the guidance of Sait, who is known as a coach available 24x7x365 days and has completed Level III coaching from England, Level II from Australia Cricket Academy, and Level 1 from India (KSCA).
Photos of some of the talented cricketers who have played for India are all proudly displayed throughout the academy. This included Robin Uthappa, Stuart Binny, Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas Gopal, Devdutt Padikkal, and Manish Pandey. “Many players who have earned international fame too drop in some times to provide coaching.
Stuart Binny, R. Vinay Kumar, and Krishnappa Gowtham ensure that they pass on their knowledge to budding cricketers here. Many times, foreign coaches are also invited for the skill development programme. Sait is backed by Mohammad Nazeerudin in the daily coaching processs. It was under Nazeerudin’s guidance that the KIOC team once toured the UAE. I was invited to attend the tour conclusion ceremony.
Hundreds of girls could also be seen training here. Some of the women cricketers from this academy who have achieved fame include Veda Krishnamurthy, Team India captain Mamata Baben, Vanitha VR, and Karuna Jain. Players from this academy have also gone abroad and played for other countries. They include many players like Noshtush Kenjige, who played for the USA, and Anuradha D, who has represented Germany.
KIOC also conducts camps abroad. In fact, KIOC has repeatedly toured Dubai and has a tie-up with G Force Cricket Academy for reciprocal tours. “Annual tours are part of our coaching. We conduct tours to Sri Lanka, Australia, England, and other countries to teach them how to play in international conditions. We provide an All India tournament experience for Under-10, 13, 15, 17, 19, and seniors. We even provide hostel facilities for overseas and outstation trainees on a daily, monthly, or annual basis,” said Sait.
Gopal Jasapara, Head Coach of G Force, says: “KIOC and G Force have done five tours recently. In fact, we just completed a tour of England. This has been a very fruitful association since both academies are passionate about seeing budding cricketers progress and do well. Irfan Sait is a passionate and committed cricket coach. He is a man who is very disciplined in his approach, and that is why we have enjoyed working together on all these tours. We are planning more tours so that the boys will have many opportunities to sharpen their skills in different conditions not only in Dubai and Bengaluru but in other countries as well.” Many overseas teams also visit KIOC for training.
Renowned Indian football player Ilyas Pasha provides physical training here and it was a delight to meet him. This legendary player was the vice captain of the Indian team in the early 90s and played for East Bengal for nearly a decade. Many fans in Kolkata still watch East Bengal’s matches wearing the jersey with his name.
It was a treat to find all modern training facilities at this academy. Six bowling machines were also seen in action. Other training gadgets include a bowling speed check gun, indoor net facilities, a well-equipped Gymnasium, and a place for Audio Visual sessions. Inside the gym is a poster that says: “The body achieves what the mind believes.” There is also a Café KIOC in the complex.
KIOC conducts coaches’ education classes too. The KIOC Coach Education Centre is IAO, USA Accredited, and is an ISO 9001: 2015 certified institute.
“We have film stars like J Karthik and Kicha Sudeep train here regularly. The celebrities’ cricket team uses our facilities for training, and so do many companies and clubs. For those who want to buy cricket equipment, we even an outlet with the best equipment,” said Sait. Many KIOC teams play in the Karnataka league in the various age groups. On an average, 50 teams participate in private tournaments too.
Almost all greats of the game have visited this academy and motivated the boys. It includes Sunil Gavaskar, Virat Kohli, Mohammad Azharuddin, Clive Lloyd, Ian Chappell, Gary Kirsten, Jonty Rhodes, Pravin Amre, and many more.
After leaving the institute, I felt like I had visited a world of cricket where the stars of tomorrow are being prepared with passion and enthusiasm. The instructions from the coaches and the sound of the bat and ball that emanated from the various nets kept echoing in my ears until I reached the Chinnaswamy Stadium for the India-Netherlands ICC World Cup 2023 match.