New Delhi: The World Cup fervor has climbed up the high security walls of Tihar, the country's largest prison, as it prepares a serious cricketing squad of inmates including high-profile convicts like Manu Sharma and Santosh Kumar Singh.
The squad of 101 players has been selected by a team of experts comprising former India coach, Rajendra Pal, cricket legend Kapil Dev along with five other Delhi-based coaches after a week-long selection trial.
The formation and training of the squad is a joint initiative of prison authorities and Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan, a Delhi-headquartered NGO working for reformation of prison inmates.
"Teams for future tournaments to be played with other teams such as corporates will be extracted from this squad that includes prominent names like Manu Sharma and Santosh Kumar Singh," says Pal, who travelled from Dehradun to coach the squad.
Sharma has been convicted in the Jessica Lall murder case while Singh is serving term in the Priyadarshani Matoo rape and murder case.
A former member of Ranji teams from Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Pal is regarded as a very disciplined person and a strict coach by Neeraj Kumar, Director General of Central Prisons, Tihar.
For the selection trial, over 250 inmates had been invited from all the eights jails in the Central Prisons. In the list of final squad, 33 per cent are convicts and the remaining comprise of undertrials.
"The main objective of training the inmates in the sport of their choice is a medium to steer their energies in a positive direction for their overall development," says Vishalanand, spokesperson of the NGO.
After a month long rigorous training, prison authorities say they plan to invite teams from outside to play tournaments.
"After the initial training and selection of teams, we plan to make the expert training of inmates a regular feature in Tihar," adds Vishalanand.
"By inviting teams from outside for tournaments we hope to bridge the gap between the inmates and the world outside. Also, to enrich the capabilities of the inmates and giving them an exposure," says Sunil Gupta, PRO Tihar.
The funds for the training and cricket kit for the players have been arranged from the Prisoners Welfare fund, though the authorities say they welcome sponsorship for strengthening the standards of their cricket team training.
In the past, Tihar jail has witnessed many cricket matches with inmate players being cheered on by ace cricketers like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kapil Dev.
During the training process special emphasis would be put on endurance and stamina development of the inmate players, along with their strength practice and technique learning.
"When we work with the inmates a lot of special focus remains on redirecting their negative energies into a positive direction. For this, we are undertaking focus and concentration building exercises using spiritual tools," says Vishalanand.
Participating inmates are also very keen on the ongoing mega cricketing extravaganza ICC Cricket World Cup.
"The inmates follow all the matches through television and newspapers. Cricket is a religion in India and it is very evident inside the prisons also," says Neeraj Kumar.
"Under the disciplined coaching of Rajendra Pal we are sure our team will do well even when pitted against non jail teams from corporate houses and sports authorities," he adds.