My agenda is to be there for cricketers, and the betterment of cricket: Punjab Cricket Association secretary Puneet Bali

Nitin Sharma

Punit Bali the secretary of Punjab Cricket Association. (Source: Jasbir Malhi)

About two months ago, 47-year-old Puneet Bali was elected as the secretary of Punjab Cricket Association (PCA). A senior advocate in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Bali is also a former First Class cricketer having played three Ranji trophy matches for the state. He spoke to Nitin Sharma about taking up the charge of secretary, his vision for the Punjab team, and balancing his profession and PCA responsibilities.

You were elected as the secretary of PCA after the elections were postponed and the president threatened to quit after some former players approached the association. Tell us about your decision to take up the role.

Even though I am a former First Class cricketer having played three Ranji trophy matches for Haryana, I was not involved in the administrative functioning of sport in any state. I have been representing BCCI in the Supreme Court regarding the Lodha Committee recommendations and also some BCCI officials. I was also doing some litigations for PCA and Haryana and represented PCA regarding some local issues in the Punjab and Haryana High Court. So I had been interacting with PCA since long. I had been reading about the turmoil in PCA in newspapers and PCA officials had first asked me passively about taking up a role, about 6 months ago. I did not take it seriously and then there were some issues in the elections and they were postponed. I tried to settle things and then some PCA officials approached me to be the secretary. They assured me that nobody will be stand for the post, I agreed and took up the role. It was refreshing and surprising for me and since cricket is my passion, I got ready for the job. Former officials like MP Pandove also guided me.

What was your first plan of action when you joined PCA?

My first plan of action was to access the administrative issues pertaining to the cricketers. My agenda was clear: to be for cricket, for cricketers, and for the betterment of cricket. When I initially came into the picture, I realised that some systems were very old and archaic and needed urgent reforms. Systems related to selection of players, how we run cricket, and what we do for cricketers. So the first step was to improve the administration of cricket and the plan for this to be oriented towards cricketers. I want my players to have two kinds of confidence in me: selection has to be fair and cricketers should be looked after. That’s the culture we wanted in PCA. Secondly I believe in winning and I understood that our Ranji trophy and other teams have not done well except for the women’s team in the recent years. That’s the first agenda I wanted to follow, to set the path for Punjab to win the Ranji trophy.

The Punjab team last won the Ranji trophy more than two decades ago. What steps have you taken to ensure that the team wins the title and achieve the past glory?

The first step we took in this regard was to announce central contracts ranging from Rs eight lakh to 10,000 per month in three categories to the 30 players of the state. Such things offer financial security to players. The second decision we took was to convert the IS Bindra PCA Stadium into a full time academy. We will have a PCA Academy coach, trainers, strength trainers, sports psychologist, nutritionist and dietician, and we have put out advertisements. While some of the staff has been hired, the entire system will be in place before January 30, 2020. Another concept which we introduced is of standby players training at the PCA Academy when they are not in any team. I saw that some talented players did not play a single match in the Vijay Hazare trophy and some of them suited the T20 team. So we trained them and made them play in the T20 format. For the first time in four years, our teams reached the knock-out stages in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and the U-16 team reached the semi-finals. I also told the selector that like players and coaches, their performance will be judged and selection meetings should have statistics of each player and score sheets of each match. There should not br bias towards a district and we have also made a research committee. I have told the district officials, if they spot any bowler bowling in excess of 135KPH or a good leg-spinner or Chinaman bowler, they should be sent to PCA for grooming. Players have direct access to me. We are also working to rehabilitate players who have been out of the team, like spinner Rahul Sharma.

What are your plans for women’s cricket and junior cricket in Punjab?

One of things which I have ensured is that our women cricketers will also be a part of the 30 cricketers who will be offered central contracts. Our women’s team recently won the T20 trophy and we have also announced that we will be giving double the cash award that is awarded by the BCCI, apart from having a felicitation function for them. I am clear that there will be no gender bias in terms of our cricket teams. Whatever will be done for the men’s team, the same will be done for women’s teams. They will also have facilities to train within the PCA Academy complex. About the junior cricket and the districts, I believe we are not tapping talents in all districts. We have planned to send our talent search team to every district and we are also planning to give more chances to minor district players. Right now, six major districts play apart from top two minor districts in the Punjab inter-District. We plan to make two zones from minor districts and the top players from here will play in two teams against the major districts teams.

What is the latest development about the new International stadium at Mullanpur?

Due to the Lodha Committee recommendations, we had some issues about the payment from BCCI but the work is going on in full speed. The civil work has been completed and work on the spectators stands, galleries, box, and other infrastructure of the stadium has begun. We are hopeful that the stadium will be completed by the end of next year and once completed, it will be one of the best stadium in the country in terms of hospitality, for which the IS Bindra PCA Stadium is known. The new stadium will not mean stopping of international cricket at the old stadium. The IS Bindra Stadium will also host international matches apart from having the academy while the new stadium will be marquee International stadium.

Lastly, which role is tougher: being a lawyer or a cricket administrator?

Firstly, I believe cricketers can be better administrators. Sourav Ganguly has been doing some good work in the BCCI and I believe cricketers understand players and their issues better. Talking of my profession, being a lawyer is 300 times more difficult than this post. But this work also requires time and I have been working for 14-16 hours daily to balance both. Sometimes, I start the day at 4.30 am, visiting stadium and holding meetings in the morning to keep a balance.