The corner of a northeastern field: How cricket found a strong wicket in Mizoram

John Zothansanga
The Suaka Memorial Cricket Ground in Sihhmui, Mizoram is built on a land donated by a hardcore cricket fan, RotluangaFanai.

"Out!" shouted the spin bowler, as his team joined him to celebrate. It is a sunny Saturday afternoon in February - picture perfect cricketing conditions on the grounds at Sihhmui, a town 21 km from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram.

However, there are no crowds in the stands to cheer the wicket, no colourful banners and no loud commentary - all is silent at the Suaka Memorial Cricket Ground in Sihhmui, the venue for the Mahuma Memorial Cricket Tournament, organised by the state's highest cricket league.

The Cricket Association of Mizoram - which was formed in 1992 - doesn’t have story like the other states they compete with. No history of winning matches at tournaments, let alone a trophy, a very few sponsors, and no crazy fan base. But plenty of passion.

"We fought 25 years for the promotion and development of cricket in Mizoram without any support from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," says Mamon Majumdar, general secretary of Cricket Association of Mizoram.

The senior mens’ cricket team in Mizoram.

But things changed last year. On August 9, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the BCCI to include nine new teams in its domestic cricket calendar for the year. And that included Mizoram, along with five other northeastern states (Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Sikkim).

However, the lead up to it had started way back. "The first application for affiliation was sent to the BCCI in 1992," recalls Majumdar, "Our President Lal Thanhawla (former Chief Minister of Mizoram), met the top brass of the BCCI with our request. But due to unknown reasons, it was never followed up."

In the interim, the Mizos formed their own cricketing league (the six-club strong Mapuia Cricket League designed along the same lines as the Indian Premier League), organised inter-village cricket tournaments and built their own stadium on a land donated by an avid cricket fan, Rotluanga Fanai in Sihhmui.

The development last year has led to people like K. Vanlalruata to dream again. "I almost gave up on my dreams of playing for the Ranji trophy. But today I can proudly call myself a Ranji playing cricketer," says Vanlalruata, who is a graduate of the Karnataka Cricket Association Academy.

K. Vanlalruata is one of the most experienced cricketers in Mizoram.

But, with only one win from their first ever Ranji Trophy, it is clear that the Mizoram cricket team still has a long way to go.

"Interest in cricket is increasing every day, but we still have a lot left to do. We never played 50-over matches in our lives till BCCI introduced us to Vijaya Hazare (a prestigious domestic competition cup also known as the Ranji One-Day Trophy), and even the pitch felt alien to many of our players," says Jonathan Lalrinchhana, media incharge, Cricket Association of Mizoram and also a batsman for Zarkawt Lords - a cricket club competing in the Mapuia Cricket League.

Lalrinchhana, who took up the game after the 1999 World Cup, has a full time job at a government hospital, while managing media for the Cricket Association of Mizoram and also practising for his own team.

"It’s not an easy job. But when you have a passion for something, you are always ready to go an extra mile," he says.

In the past few months, Mizoram is slowly starting to build up their squad and the authorities admit that it has not been an easy task. "Especially with the girls, it is not easy to build a team of our own. We invited footballers, boxers, hockey players and athletes from different disciplines to attend the trial. Once thirty players turned up - and we had to choose all thirty because that is the minimum mandate for the squad!" says Jonathan, with a laugh.

The womens’ squad of the Cricket Association of Mizoram.

During the trials, many were playing cricket for the first times in their lives. Among them was Lalrintluangi. A 23-year-old, who became the first and only Mizo woman to summit Mt. Everest back in 2016, Lalrintluangi is looking for a "career change".

"I chose cricket because I love the game as a child and I wanted a new challenge in my life," she says. "The future of cricket in Mizoram is bright."