The young city cricketers have waited for two years to hear this: the Harris Shield tournament will begin at various city venues from February 22.
The Under-16 inter-school tournament was cancelled for the years 2019-20 and 2020-21 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With schools reopening in the city, the Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA), under the aegis of Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), have decided to hold their marquee tournament, which remarkably will be in its 125th year.
Harris Shield normally has 130+ schools participating in the tournament but this season, due to limited time, the organisers have scaled it down to just 16 teams. The teams that reached the knockouts the last time the tournament was held were given an automatic qualification spot.
Schools haven’t been training in the past couple of years and sources say teams were struggling to put together teams for the tournament. Significantly, three teams out of the 16 pulled out of the tournament, but the organisers managed to find replacements based on previous rankings.
Three-time defending champions Al Barkaat (Kurla) are raring to go though they haven’t played much cricket as a team. Their coach Nafees Khan told FPJ that his team only recently started practice at Cross Maidan.
“Thankfully the boys live close to each other and while we couldn’t have any official practice, the boys used to practice among themselves. Like always, our team mostly consists of Standard 9 students, but we’re confident of doing well,” he said.
The teams will play as per the new format. These 16 teams are divided into four groups. The top team from each group will qualify for the semifinal.
All the players competing at the tournament had to undergo a mandatory bone density test, made compulsory by the MCA in its attempt to get rid of age fraud.
“We've made the bone test compulsory. It will be conducted at a lab which is also used by the BCCI to conduct such tests,” MCA Apex Council member Nadim Memon told FPJ. Memon, who has largely been responsible for getting the go ahead for the tournament, said the championship will begin with an exhibition match at CCI on February 21 to mark the 125th year of the tournament.
“The CCI president Premal Udani has agreed to host a match between CCI President’s XI, which will include many former Mumbai players who have played in the Harris Shield. They will play against the sports journalists team,” Memon said.