Rongsen Jonathan feels 'robbed' after maiden List A ton deemed invalid
You are 33 years old. You've grown up dreaming to play for your state that has no culture of cricket but you don't know if there's a future in the game because all youngsters grow up playing is football at any available space.
Then you move to a big city with your family because your father is pursuing a PhD. You develop a liking for the game because your school team is the envy of all others in the city. You do well on the age-group circuit with a number of future India stars, only to get lost in the maze at the senior level. Then you fight your way through, complete your education and find employment with the government-run Railways.
Things don't work out, and you finally return home after a decade's struggle following your state getting BCCI affiliation. Then, you're made captain and you lead from the front to score a century in the first match of your team's second domestic season ever, only to be told the century is invalid.
How would you feel?
"Hurt, upset, annoyed, robbed," Rongsen Jonathan, the Nagaland captain, tells ESPNcricinfo what it felt like after being told his maiden List A century stands invalid following the BCCI's decision to reschedule their Vijay Hazare Trophy fixture against Manipur. That match (held on September 24), and many others, were rescheduled after torrential downpours in the host cities rendered a number of games across Groups A, B and the Plate group incomplete.
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In case you are wondering if the situation warranted such a move, here's some context. The match was played on a damp surface at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Dehradun, according to a local venue official. Sent in to bat, Nagaland were reduced to 46 for 4. Jonathan, who walked in at No. 3 in the fourth over, batted through the innings to remain unbeaten on 103. The dampness of the surface also had him overcome a number of bruises owing to inconsistent bounce, but the surface, said the official on the condition of anonymity, was "not unplayable if you were willing to fight". The match was called off because of rain after Nagaland bowled 8.4 overs. Jonathan alone had contributed more than 50% of his team's total.
"Nearly 60% of the match was completed," Jonathan says. "I understand the decision to reschedule matches is taken while keeping the bigger picture in mind, but why should players be robbed of their records just because a result wasn't possible? As players, we work hard, train all year round and, in the first match of the season, if somebody scores runs and it goes as a blank in his record, he is bound to feel hurt.
"I wrote to the BCCI, I asked for a clarification from Saba Karim [the BCCI's general manager, cricket operations], but I haven't received a response. It's upsetting for individuals. It hurts all the more because cricketers from the north-east [of India] have so much going against them. When somebody in the local media reads about a century or a five-wicket haul, it really inspires young kids and more people to the game. But now when you have nothing to show, there's little we can do."
Nagaland have had three washouts, with only the game against Manipur, in which Jonathan made a century, set to be replayed on October 17. The other two games will be classified under the 'No Result' category.
The BCCI, however, can only be held accountable so much, thanks to an extended monsoon season and a chock-a-block cricket calendar. Currently, the senior men's and women's teams are in action, the latter having kicked off the domestic T20 tournament on Monday. The Vijay Hazare Trophy is being held across four venues, while a number of venues such as Visakhapatnam, Pune, Ranchi (for men), and Vadodara and Surat (for women) are/were occupied with the India-South Africa series.
On his part, Karim explained the plan was only to ensure they try and get in as many games as possible. "If we are revising it, the entire game has to be revised. There is no other way," he told ESPNcricinfo. "The reason we are rescheduling is because teams were not getting enough games, which they need to play.
"So we are revising all those games, whether a ball has been bowled or some cricket has been played, and fresh numbers are going in. It's better for the overall picture. This was unseasonal rain; it upset all our plans. The idea is to give teams as many games as possible at the start of our domestic season, which wasn't possible because of the rain."
Jonathan soaks in 'unexpected' win for Nagaland
Jonathan is a journeyman. Having begun his career after impressing at the Karnataka Under-16s, he made his List A debut in 2010 and rose up the ranks alongside Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal. Stifling competition, tryst with injuries, a season of indifferent form as follow-up to a season of consistent scores in club cricket meant he didn't get the opportunities. He eventually shifted to Railways, but a system in flux and lack of infrastructure forced him to look elsewhere.
"I thought anyway if this is how it is at Railways, it's better to play for my home state, especially since they asked me to play for them after receiving the BCCI affiliation," Jonathan says. "The goal for me at 33 is just to inspire the next generation of players. Last year, just a handful of kids came for trials at the Under-16 [level]. This year, one school ground wasn't enough. The interest is there and we can only inspire them if we lead by example."
To that extent, Jonathan termed Monday's win over Chandigarh as their most significant till date. Chasing 221, they were down for the count at 175 for 7. The lower order raillied to pull off a win, their second in seven games. What pleased Jonathan more was the effort was down to spunk shown by their home-grown players.
"You can argue it was against the debutants, but they are all coming from a higher grade of cricket, having represented Punjab, which has a rich history," Jonathan says. "Nagaland beating Chandigarh is something nobody expected. But we did it. There is potential and promise. With support, our aim is to be a top team in the Plate League and progress."