Meerut in Uttar Pradesh has come into focus as a cricket centre in last 5 to 6 years with the Victoria Park academy besides Meerut College campus producing few quality cricketers in recent times. Being a semi urban town the admission fees are kept at accessible limits for families who want their children to pursue cricket. Mr Sanjay Rastogi ,a former medium fast bowler who played briefly at first class level runs the academy along with ground curator Ravindra Chauhan. It’s a lush green ground at Victoria Park with green top pitches which are more like Manchester — assists movement.
One feature of this academy is that the trainees are kept away from T20 cricket . They are mostly made to play minimum of 40 overs matches.
Mr Rastogi has produced two of the finest swing bowlers who played for India, Praveen Kumar and currently Bhuvaneswar Kumar. Praveen was spotted by both Rastogi and Chauhan while they dropped in to observe a cricket match in nearby locality. Being impressed with his hitting prowess they offered Praveen to train with them and he joined very next day. Subsequently he managed to show his ability to swing the ball and his bowling skills got enhanced by practising under Sanjay Rastogi on those seaming tracks of the academy. Praveen went on to play for India and showed his bowling skills at international level but he didn’t have a long career. However Praveen continued to stay in touch with his roots and helped other trainees in his academy which assisted him to get international exposure.
Bhuvaneswar Kumar ,turned out to be the most successful trainee under Sanjay Rastogi. He joined Mr Rastogi’s coaching since he was 11. He proved to be extremely dedicated and gave equal importance to both batting and bowling. As per his childhood coach’s observations, Bhuvi looked a very good batsman with very good footwork . As a trainee he was very hard working, disciplined and remembered coaches advices. His ability to swing the ball was always there and it further sharpened up on the Victoria Park academy pitches. Mr Rastogi did not tamper with his action and stressed on his line and length. Bhuvi as the youngster used to travel to Delhi frequently from Meerut to play in competitive matches to further sharpen his skills. In course of time Bhuvi’s Indian callup happened . When he was going to tour England in 2014 to play the test series, he even called up his coach to get some good swing bowlers who can bowl with pace so that he can come down and do batting practice on the greentops at Victoria Park which showed his drive and determination. His batting practice under his coaches supervision did help as he scored crucial runs in the lower order in that series and was awarded India’s player of the series for his allround abilities. Like Praveen Kumar, Bhuvi also interacted with young trainees whenever he visited his childhood trainer and gave them tips.
More recently Sanjay Rastogi has taken Shivam Mavi under his wings. As per him , Shivam doesn’t swing the ball as much as Bhuvi or Praveen but he has impressive pace and a very good inswinger and yorker . Mavi, still a raw talent, has already showed his abilities in under 19 World cup but recent injuries have laid him low. Rastogi hopes that Mavi will produce results once he recovers as he has good potential.
Besides Mavi , players like Karn Sharma ( who has already played briefly in India colours )has also been products of Sanjay Rastogi’s coaching.
Thus the Sanjay Rastogi run Victoria Park cricket academy in Meerut has already started producing international quality players and it has proved that BCCI should look beyond the bigger towns to get more raw talents from smaller towns , playing domestic cricket to upgrade themselves to greater heights.