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MRF and Cricket - A 25 year old journey

One of MRF's objectives has always been to deliver speed to Indians. The company is a leader in R&D, introducing tyres to make rides faster, safer and more comfortable.

Fans who watched India's cricket team in the 70s and 80s will tell you about the discomfort our batsmen felt against speed. Bowling attacks would unleash hostile spells on India's batsmen knowing we only had medium pacers and spinners to retaliate with; tailenders would invariably frustrate India's bowlers for sessions. Kapil Dev was the only one who bowled with venom.

India lacked the support system to encourage fast bowlers. Pitches in domestic cricket played to the strengths: batting and spin bowling. Youngsters received qualified input on developing skills or training to be a fast bowler - physically and mentally. Having faced raw bowlers in domestic cricket, India's batsmen too found themselves at a loss in International cricket. Injuries could end careers and many chose to bowl within their limits.

It was in this landscape in 1987 that the late Ravi Mammen of MRF decided that the company could deliver speed to Indians in a whole new way. It would be no easy job to build an entire culture but Mammen's vision was clear.

Like all good things, it faced doubters at the beginning. The appointment of Dennis Lillee as Director was questioned since he had never played in India. But with the gifted Tamil Nadu pacer TA Sekar coming on board as coach and qualified personnel recruited as support staff, the MRF Pace Foundation started operations on a part of the Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School grounds in 1988.

In a solid response, more than a 100 youngsters from all over the country turned up for the trials. A memorable story goes, after seeing them bowl and then bat against the other hopefuls, Lillee told a 15 year old Sachin Tendulkar and an older boy, Sourav Ganguly, that maybe they should focus on their batting.

The foundation finalized 12 young bowlers for the first batch. A gifted bowler himself, TA Sekar grew into a great coach learning from the Australian legend. They formed a great team. Wisdom accumulated over Lillee's rich 355 Test wicket career was dispensed insightfully and discipline imparted so the players learnt firsthand what it takes to be a professional international sportsperson: Preparation, Hunger and Toil.

Besides ensuring the foundation had always had the best equipment and training facilities, top coaching talent and video analysts, Ravi Mammen also insisted on taking care of accommodation and living expenses of students for the 9 months they spent at the Foundation.

Vivek Razdan was the first of many alumni to make it to the Indian team, on the 1989 tour of Pakistan. The line continued with Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, RP Singh and Varun Aaron following. Doors were opened to overseas students in 1994, helping bowlers of the caliber of Glenn McGrath, Chaminda Vaas, Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Shane Bond and Mitchell Johnson on their way to international cricket. Jeff Thomson, Joel Garner, Greg Chappell, Ian Chappell and Rodney Marsh have visited the Foundation to share their knowledge with students.

Dennis Lillee retired from his position after 25 years earlier this year and Glenn McGrath took over the reins as Director to continue the Foundation's work. In September, the Board of Control for Cricket in India signed a five year agreement with the Foundation to train an Elite group of 20 bowlers in 3 camps overseen by McGrath each year.

At the event to announce the partnership, Chairman and Managing Director MRF Limited K M Mammen said, "For the last 25 years, the MRF Pace Foundation has worked with a single minded focus of producing pace bowlers for India. Everything we have done at the Pace Foundation, in terms of the tie-ups we have entered into, the infrastructure we have invested in, the staff we have trained, has been planned with this single objective in mind."

"We are extremely proud of what we have achieved so far. 17 of our trainees have played for the country, taking over 2,000 international wickets. Today, we are proud to announce the official partnership between the BCCI and MRF Pace Foundation to train pace bowlers for India. This new agreement will help us work together even more effectively to produce great results," he added.

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