During such pandemic-ridden times, two things are of utmost importance, health and the necessity of staying pre-occupied.
Though even before the deadly disease and lockdown clipped the wings of the ACE Cricket Academy, Arshad Pirzada, one of the founders of this academy, recognised the importance of both.
He along with two other energetic coaches, Urooj Ahmed and Sheikh Naeem, are playing their parts to channelize the knack that kids develop for the country’s national pastime.
Although an excellent way for initial exposure to cricket — be it by watching the game supplemented by commentary or playing with others in their locality — a young person’s talent can only flourish so much within the confines of a locality’s bylane or in front of a TV screen.
This is where ACE Academy comes in.
“A lot goes into preparing a student before he belts his a single shot in the nets on the astro turf,” says the former Ranji player Naeem.
He mentions this while crouched on the turf in front of the net that separates advanced students from the novice ones. About three feet away from in parallel to him is a student decked out in pads, gloves and a helmet. Naeem softly chucks many red cricket balls in front of him. The right-handed batsman puts his left foot forward and extends his bat forward to send each ball forward with what looks like a smooth cover drive.
Although there are times when the coach says he is overstepping in front of the ball. A lot goes into perfecting any sort of shot.
The coach adds, “To master any kind of shot along with the footwork, one has to practice it 1,400 times.”
When setting out to initially ingrain this mindset of diligence and discipline into young cricketers while opening the academy, the hastily-implemented lockdown then threw a wrench in their plans.
ACE had only been inaugurated two days before the lockdown amidst a lot of excitement from the founders and many eager students alike.
Though with restrictions getting lifted, they too are limping back to normalcy like many other businesses. Upon turning left into the Yousuf Tekri Colony lane from the bustling main road of the Old Mumbai Highway, one can hear the chants of “well-bowled” and the clacking of the bats’ willow against the red cock-ball.
The second batch which goes from 4 PM to 8:30 PM is well underway. The first session of the day happens from 6 AM to 8 PM.
Urooj, a coach a mainstay every summer within London’s Ealing County Cricket Club says that they are now planning on adding a third batch.
Plus, although a youngster might have a preference towards batting or bowling, ACE teaches its kids to be all-rounders. “Deftly wielding a bat and/or a ball alone will not let make you a wholesome player and it surely will not make you appealing to selectors for high-level teams,” informs Naeem.
Be it during their coaching sessions or the matches, they play every Saturday. The teaching and grooming do not stop via experiential learning as the coaches pause during these Saturday games to emphasize a certain lesson. “During the match we teach them about mental aspects of the game such as how to stay alert as non-strike batsman and communicate with the strike batsman,” stresses Naeem.
He then conjures up the outcome of the 1999 World Cup Final when South Africa played Australia. Miscommunication between the strike batsman Lance Klussner and Allan Donald, who was a bowler, let an easy victory slip away.
Had that run been taken and Allan Donald ran, the game would not have been tied and instead Australia would have been sent to the World Cup final in 1999. The whole landscape for the past two decades of cricket would have been different.
Such insights are instilled into the students of the game by ACE coaches.
In other academies, this training comes at a minimum of Rs. 5,000 per month. However, ACE only charges only Rs. 3,000. One young, right-handed fast bowler by the name of Mohammed who just enrolled in the academy two days ago.
Even though he has been coming only for less than a week, there has been a bit of a difference in his game.
Though with the lockdown in the rearview mirror — for now at least — a lot is on the cards for ACE. They are planning to expand the premises on the patch of land next to the nets. That space will be used for a gym.
Diet and sleep are just as important as exercise. Hence, a dietician to help kids maintain the food intake will also be a part of the coaching team.
Mohammed says, “Coming here [ACE Academy] has changed my outlook on the game not just as a player, but a spectator who takes in the game through television.”
Clearly, coaching is the missing ingredient when it comes to turning raw talent into refined cricketing prowess.
For more information about registering for the classes contact Coach Naeem (9849442250) or Maihssen (9642180487).