India’s U18 coach, Ranjit Dinesh Sharma’s ambitious and determined plans to put softball in his country to the next level, could well bear fruit soon.
The 32-year-old coach was in his maiden international assignment with India in the U18 Men Softball Asia Cup 2023, Kochi Softball Fields at Kochi Athletic Recreation Park, Haruno which ended on Saturday.
Ranjit who was solely responsible for the selection of the team, is among the new and young breed of Indian softball coaches.
Ranjit who hails from Maharashtra in the Nashik district, is a true lover of sports, having played several sports from young but took softball seriously and represented India in the 10th Asia Men’s championship in Jakarta in 2018.
He was so obsessed by sports, that he set up a Sports Academy called Fitness 1st Academy in 2015 and got it fully registered in 2017.
And the Academy, which has 20 coaches, is not only for softball, but eight sports – softball, football, athletics, fencing, basketball, volleyball and badminton.
“I have about 480 people participating in the various sports and age ranging from 3 to 70 years old,” said Ranjit.
“Yes, we cater for the senior citizens and older people because it is a fitness centre and anyone who wants to have a healthy lifestyle, is welcome to join us, while we also concentrate on development of the various sports.
“While we cater for eight sports, I concentrate on softball and I strongly believe that we will be a force to be noticed soon.”
Ranjit said that although the Academy is privately funded by him and his family, he also get support from the local agencies and politicians.
The academy is on a 9 acre land with basic facilities – mainly fields for the various sports.
“We plan to have a fully equipped academy with all the facilities when we have then funds. We are now working closely with several associations including Softball Association for India.
“While the Indian softball team used to be the whipping team before, we are slowly improving and see entry of new talent to the team,” lamented Ranjit.
Ranjit said that although in India, cricket is the Number 1 sport, they still have many who play cricket, who have also joined to play softball.
In the U19, although finishing fourth out of five teams (Hong Kong finished fifth), Ranjit was pleased that they did not end up wooden spoonist and although they lost three matches, some matches were with respectable scores against higher ranked teams.
India also beat Hong Kong 18-0, a record win for them and lost to Japan (11-0), Singapore (11-0) and Chinese Taipei (7-0).
Ranjit was supposed to have stayed back for the Asia Cup, but had to return as one of his close relative is critically ill.
Meanwhile, India’s senior team, started off their campaign in the Asia Cup this morning on an encouraging note when they went down to Philippines, last year’s runner-up, 1-5 in seven innings.
“Philippines is an experienced and higher ranked team, but our performance was encouraging, “ said Harvinder Singh, one of two coaches for the team.
“We have come here not to make up the number but to try out best for a bronze medal or at worst fourth finish.
“It may sound ambitious, but every team has come here with the dream of finishing among the top three and we are no different.”
Harvinder said that the team had four training camps, each between 10 to 20 days, as part of there preparation for this tournament.
“While previously, we were handicapped with only a right handed pitcher, now we have a right and left pitcher, which gives us variations and options in the team against opponents.
However, in the their second game this morning, defending champion, Japan, gave India a lesson in game, when they beat them 9-0 in five innings.
Japan’s pitchers and the speed of their runners, was simply too hot for Indian to handle.
But Japan’s coach Shinji Eguchi still praised the Indian team for their improved performance, especially their pitchers, whom he said showed vast improved.
With the acknowledgement from Eguchi, India indeed can walk tall and look forward to their remaining matches against Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei and Singapore on Tuesday with renewed confidence and probably look forward to creating an upset or two.
TODAY’S RESULT SO FAR
Hong Kong 0 Singapore 9
India 1 Philippines 5
India 0 Japan 11
Philippines Chinese Taipei
Hong Kong Chinese Taipei