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Grand grounds man – sports


If the Coronavirus-caused suspension of sporting action gives you an empty feeling, setting foot on the maidans of Mumbai will numb your sporting veins.

The Cross, Azad and Oval Maidans form the epicentre of Mumbai cricket along with Dadar’s Shivaji Park and the Dadkar Maidan in Matunga. The vast stretches of sporting turf are no longer decorated with cricketers, with balls, with stumps and marked out creases. But the old faithfuls—the groundsmen—also known as maalis, have not stayed away. They continue to water the pitches, in the hope of cricket resuming.

Who has bothered about their well-being in the lockdown? Cricketers? No. Neither the administrators, they say. But one man who answers to the name of Praful Upadhyay; an amateur cricketer and community cricket organiser.

From Tuesday, Upadhyay, 53 has distributed a set of daily needs to around 65 groundsmen all over Mumbai. The items include tea powder, wheat flour, dal, rice, oil, sugar, onions, potatoes, salt etc. Each set, it is learnt, has cost Upadhyay Rs 1200.

‘Like a God to us’

“Except Prafulbhai, no one has come to help us in this Coronavirus crisis. Not a single person has enquired about how we are managing to live and survive these days. He is like a Bhagwan [God] for us. I heard he lives in Borivli East and has to travel far to help us. Many big players have played and till a few weeks ago, practised at Cross Maidan, but now, no one has time for us. Maybe, they have their problems too,” Santosh Gaur, a groundsman at Cross Maidan’s Karnatak Sporting Association (KSA) told Sunday mid-day.

Jagdish JaiswalJagdish Jaiswal

Gaur, 40, has been with KSA for the last nine years along with two other groundsmen—Dipchandra Bari and Manjur Khan. “We are not used to seeing an empty Cross Maidan. These are very painful days. We are just watering the pitches so they can be in good condition when things get normalised. I am hoping this crisis is sorted out soon and cricket resumes,” Gaur added.

For MB Union Cricket Club’s groundsman, Raju Naik, 63, who was admitted to the St George’s Hospital, Fort for blood sugar issues, Upadhyay’s largesse is nothing short of timely: “I was discharged from hospital a few days ago. As all cricketing activity has come to a standstill, no one is looking after us. But, Prafulbhai, who used to play on this ground only on Sundays and pays ground charges, is helping us. He gave us a packet which includes everything to prepare our meals. What more can you expect from someone who hardly knows you.”

Jagdish Jaiswal, 70, who has been looking after Dadar Parsi Colony Sports Club at Dadkar Maidan, Matunga, for the last 46 years is overwhelmed by Upadhyay’s deeds. “A big thank you to Prafulbhai. This is not an easy task; it requires a big heart. People said they will do this and that for us, but only Prafulbhai has done so,” said Jaiswal.

Jaiswal has not forgotten other kind souls and earlier deeds, though. “Balvinder Singh Sandhu [former Mumbai and India pacer] gave me Rs 35,000 in 2004. It was a big amount 16 years ago, which I used for my son’s cricketing progress,” remarked Jaiswal, whose son Om represented Mumbai at the Under-23 level. Sandhu, the 1983 World Cupper, parted with significant amounts of money to groundsmen in 1998 post his benefit match.

When mid-day contacted Upadhyay on Saturday morning, he was busy preparing a fresh set of packets for the groundsmen. “When the lockdown started, I thought about whether anyone is supporting the maalis in this difficult situation. Most of them stay at the grounds and there are hardly any grocery shops in their area. I doubt they have any savings given their minimal income. So, I started working on this and distributed these sets a few days ago,” said Upadhyay.

No help from MCA, NGOs

He now wants the Mumbai Cricket Association and NGOs to come forward and help the groundsmen. “MCA should take utmost care of them. When I asked these groundsmen whether MCA gave them money or anything, they said no. It’s basically the responsibility of the MCA because throughout the year these men are working for cricket and MCA tournaments. They should take responsibility and look after them for these two to three months in this difficult period,” remarked Upadhyay, who has been organising community-based tournaments for the last 22 years.

A packet of daily essentials includes:

  • Wheat flour
  • Dal
  • Rice
  • Oil
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Sugar
  • Salt 
  • Tea powder

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