The Caribbean Evening – Barbados 2022

On the eve of US Masters O 50 team heading out to the Caribbean to take part in the Caribbean cup Ravi Suri Interviewed the Coach Arun Vittala and the team vice-captain Mr. Sanjeewa Weerasinghe. Cricket in USA has a come a long way; from being a social event in the 90’s to friendly competition in early 2000 to having a Minor League to parallelly have a veterans or MASTER’s team in over 40, 50 and 60 age groups. It is indeed a case of Cricket in the US on a rapid rise.
The Masters over 50 USA team is about to embark on a tour to the Barbados to participate in the Caribbean Cup 2022. The team is led by Parak Ananta, Sanjeewa Weerasinghe is his deputy and Mr. Arun Vithala is the coach of these 50 PLUS YOUNG BRIGADES!! Today I have with me Mr. Arun Vithala and Mr. Sanjeewa Weerasinghe to talk about the upcoming tour, about master’s cricket in USA the spice and sugar around it.

The Interview:

  • Let me pose the first question to the coach of the team Arun can you tell me how Masters cricket in the USA came into being. Who are the people behind this wonderful initiative which is growing exponentially at a rapid pace. Response of Mr. Vittala “ to start with Masters would not have happened without the timely stepping of this amazing gentleman Dr. Parak Ananta. The story goes like this he found out Masters cricket tournaments were going around in the cricketing world and USA did not have a masters team or a masters organization. To get his foot into the door he along with Dilip Chavan traveled all the way to INDIA as India was putting up a team. These both Gentleman from Boston turned up for the trials of the Indian Masters team and succeeded in making it to the team which was to later play in the Masters world cup in South Africa. Unfortunately, COVID intervened and the show shut down. Having tasted the flavor of masters cricket both Parak and Dilip started kitchen conversations as to why Masters cricket cannot be brought to the USA. 2 or 3 others from Boston received the idea well and the word spread, Sanjeeva, Shah Nawaz, Sakhi Mohamed Rizwan were some of the passionate cricketers who were reached out to. That is how the seeds were sown and rest is in front of our eyes. I don’t know if I answered your question in the context you intended.
    Ravi Suri “ Oh You did, and did it wonderfully well. Your response goes to show the power of this game. Two gentlemen from Boston think of brining masters to our shores that too during the challenging COVID times when life was at its uncertain worst give birth to the idea and let the infant grow to a strapping handsome youngster in a matter of 2 years. Just goes to show how well the management and hands behind this mission have worked.
  • I have a follow up question coach seeing the pop corn effect this who concept of masters has and seeing how more and more players are signin up to participate how do you plan to manage such an exponential growth. Response from Mr. Vittala “Very intesrting question Ravi, it comes down to one thing grass roots and trunk has to be strong to ensure the tree grows straights and healthy. We want to see more and more people brining extreme commitment to support this venture. It amazes me to see the number of people coming in to say I want to help and I want to contribute. The energy I see in people within the masters entity is mind blowing. This is the case as they are seeing something good and transparent in Masters. People are seeing a great future for Masters.
  • Ravi Suri “ As we all know cricket is a game played by two batsmen let me not bowl only at the coach, I will bowl my next question to the vice captain of the team Sanjeewa. Sanjeeva, how long have you been associated with Masters how did you get to know about the existence of this form of cricket. Response from Sanjeewa “ Thank Ravi for this doing this interview, I have been involved with Masters from inception. One fine morning I got a call from a common friend who enquired if I knew about Masters cricket in the USA. I said NO, he sent me a link and asked me to join the group. I did not take it seriously initially and only after my friend nudged me again I filled the form after which Parak called me. The conversation to join masters took pace in Dec 2020. We wanted to put up two teams but barely managed to put up one team. However the word kept spreading and in matter of few months were able to shore up 4 teams and managed to play the first masters zonal tournament in April of 2021. After that tournament in April 2021 the Masters concept became a reality and the magnitude blew out of proportions”
  • Ravi Suri “ So true and would you recollect the first ever game you played for the country under the masters auspices. Sanjeewa response “ After a few local and zonal games the first masters USA team was picked to tour CANADA. It was a great experience, we are ready to travel but the borders were still closed due to COVID. Our team was on the first flight to leave LAX for Toronto to play in the Masters. The airport staff was at a skeleton strength, flights were being cancelled left right and center. Travel was a nightmare. But despite all this the masters team made it to CANADA and we beat CANADA in the first game. But thereafter due to injuries, fitness issues and lack of playing enough together we did not shape ell for rest of the tour. We went to England after that with a thin team. Now that we have played enough league, zonal and regional tournaments the Masters team is a well-knit, very fit and experienced unit. We can now put up two competitive teams with a pool of 30 players with any player capable of replacing anyone. There is no guaranteed spot for any player. We played an international tournament in March of 2022, we remained unbeaten beating CANADA, West Indies and USA A. We are looking forward to continuing this momentum and do well on our tour to Barbados next week”
  • Ravi Suri, Thank you Sanjeewa for such a wonderful recap. It is to the credit of Masters management to handle the infancy of masters that too during tough and challenging COVID times. We all know that more game time automatically means improvement in player performances. The hands behind masters management were able to organize a series of games which prepared the team to show their true potential in 2022 International Tournament conducted in Houston. Arun Vittala jumps in “Ravi I am so sorry to interrupt but would like to add, talking about history of masters the very first one was in Moosa Stadium we had 4 months and 2 months later we played at Woodley park we had 8 teams. Parak and his team insisted that all Masters games will be played on TURF. The bar was set for standard and quality. At about the same time the Over 60 Masters was started. Within no time we hosted international events in TX and conducted these with utmost efficiency and then these were followed by local tournaments including Masters Over 40 few weeks back of which you were part of and can vouch from your personal experience. Sorry I had to Interrupt but I was keen to add to what Sanjeewa said”
  • Ravi Suri “ Sanjeewa mentioned how quickly the masters team got to speed in terms of competing with and winnings international tournaments. We need to recognize that for a team to do well on the stage the people handling the back stage have to be at their best. This is the case with any walk of life, for a concert to succeed and for the musicians to deliver a great performance the acoustics and the lighting of the stage have to be great and that is where people behind come in. If Indian cricket team is doing well, one should not forget the role of BCCI is creating the infrastructure and the platform for winning performances. Masters has some solid hands behind the stage to ensure players do their best on the field.”
  • My next question to Sanjeewa is where do you rank USA in the 8 teams which are competing in the Caribbean championship cup Response from Sanjeewa “ The 8 teams are divided into two groups of 4 each. USA is in Group A which has India, West Indies and Wales. We stand a great chance of making it to the semis. USa has just started 2 years back whereas England has been playing as a unit for much longer. Moreover our players don’t get to play as much on turf as say the players from England. That said under the guidance of Arun we are confident of a good performance.
  • Ravi Suri” Hats off to the thought process of Masters management for insisting that all US masters games have to be played on Turf even if that means compromising on quantity. Adhering to quality is what will help us compete in the long run. Sanjeewa “ yes and that is all thanks to our captain Parak who was very clear about this from day one”
  • Ravi Suri My next question to the coach, given that this is a self funded program what is the masters management doing to help players with their fitness and skill level. Response “ Good question, we have asked players who are going to Barbados to follow a regulated fitness program. We have asked them to take video footing of their fitness regime and send the same to the management. Similarly, we have asked players to work on and develop their cricketing skills, be it batting, bowling or fielding and record these sessions. I have asked bowlers to work on spot bowling. There are challenges and obviously cant arrange for camps, but we are looking at innovative methods to keep up their levels both skill and fitness. Bottom line is for masters management to be innovative to ensure player are provided the support to excel. Ravi Suri, thank you coach the operative word is innovative and I get it.
  • My last question to you it is sensitive and tricky but my job is to ask the tough questions. Given that the master’s program is self-funded or pay to play mode, how do you handle players who do not make it to the playing 12 given that 12 can play a game. Response, this is a challenging question and a reality we have to live with. We have handled this issue in the past with care, empathy and feel factor. At the same time we are very firm in the message we convey right at the beginning when the probable’s are in consideration for a spot in the 15 man squad. We make it clear to every individual that the rules of the game are transparent and consistent. The best 12 play, you may spend as much as anyone else and may not get a game that is how this program works. I specifically come in during these tough times maybe have a beer and an arm around the shoulder and talk about this being a team game as against an individual sport. We have to give room for disappointments and try to minimize the pain. It is never easy on the player nor the management but this is a balancing act which has to be done.

Ravi Suri “ Thank you Coach and Sanjeewa for your valuable time. Wish you both the very best on the tour, I am confident that the team will get us laurels and wins. Have a winning and pleasant trip. Safe travels.”

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