A few days back I decided to visit Delhi’s Ferozshah Kotla stadium and take a closer look at the Delhi team preparing for Vijay Hazare Trophy. Besides that, I wanted to talk to my good friend and Delhi captain Aakash Chopra and interview some Delhi cricketers who are on the fringes of the national team.
Like millions of other people in India, I am a cricket buff ever since my childhood. Unlike my cricket-crazy friends, my interest in cricket was not limited to the international arena, but also covered the happenings in the domestic circuit, especially of my state team Bengal. I liked to keep a close tab on relatively unknown cricketers, who may or may not play for the country in future.
As a small village lad who dreamt big, the success of some of these players from humble backgrounds inspired me. In fact, I got much of my early motivation and lessons in life from the game of cricket.
I still remember how passionate I used to be about visiting Kanchanjangha Stadium in Siliguri, the city nearest to my house, to watch Ranji matches involving the Bengal team.
So as a journalist, whenever I get an opportunity to interact with domestic cricketers, I grab it.
It was this interest that took me to Kotla on that day. Though Aakash told me that they would be practicing from 9-12 in the morning and I could get hold of them only after they finish their nets, I decided to reach there early, by 10.30 am.
It was not one of those grueling net sessions at Kotla. There was time for discussion in between practices. The subject that dominated the day was the recently held IPL auction in Goa, where England duo of Pietersen and Flintoff raked in a whopping amount of moolah.
Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya was heard telling his boys how England all-rounder Paul Collingwood would add more value to their Delhi Daredevils this time. On this, Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) player Aakash Chopra reminded his coach that unlike last year, KKR will get the services of West Indies captain Chris Gayle, who is a devastating player especially in the abbreviated version of the game.
Aakash also argued that if their opening combo, consisting of the burly West Indian Gayle and Kiwi dasher Brendon McCullum, stayed together for the first six overs, no one could prevent KKR from reaching the 100-runs mark. Everybody nodded their heads in agreement.
One of the players also cracked a joke regarding the huge amount Bangladeshi all-rounder Mashrafe Mortaza was able to fetch. He said that more than the amount of money, Mortaza was happy because it’s for him that the two Bollywood divas, Preity Zinta and Juhi Chawla, had a fight for almost 40 minutes in the auction.
Then it was time for some serious business as Aakash and Delhi Daredevil all-rounder Rajat Bhatia went to two different nets to have some knocking rounds with the bat.
Rajat was his usual self, hitting an off-spinner and an under-19 left armer for some lusty shots down the ground and, in between sweeping them.
Aakash, on the other hand, was batting against the bowling machine in another net. But lo and behold!! Aakash, a batsman whom I had seen facing the mighty Aussies bravely in their den in his orthodox style, was whacking almost every delivery he faced!!
There was hardly any ball the opener tried to defend!!…He was lofting every ball…be it an over-pitch or a good length. The way he was playing reminded me of my coaching-centre days when anybody who tried to play out of book cricket, was scolded by our coach. I thought that cricket has really changed a lot within a few years…
Am I thinking cynically like Geoffrey Boycott? Let me tell you that I am an unabashed romanticist when it comes to cricket. A straight drive down the ground or a copybook cover drive pleases me more than a cross-batted six. The newest version of cricket (T20) never excited me. I can still go to the fields to watch Rahul Dravid play his customary cricket in Test matches.
But alas! Players like Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Jacques Kallis, VVS Laxman, who are considered batsmen with merit, had to struggle in the inaugural IPL season. On the other hand, there were the relatively unknown Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Shaun Marsh who showed their valor and entertained the cheering crowds with their unorthodox ways with the willow.
So, I thought, probably Aakash is trying hard to adapt to <i>fataafat</i> cricket. He probably learnt it the hard way that cricket is neither a gentleman’s game nor a beautiful game any more. It’s more of a business these days. Your price is decided not by the cricketing substance you have, but by the forces of market value that are tagged with you. So Mortazas earn more than the Pontings, Dravids or Kallises.
I reminded myself that there is no place for emotion in this hard world dominated by the business class. Hundreds of people can be handed the pink slip by men like Vijay Mallya for financial slowdown, but when it comes to ‘entertaining’ people through cricket, he can champion the cause by buying an individual for Rs 7.5 crore. If the IPL, I reflect, can overcome a monster like recession so easily, it must have the ability to change the face of cricket for ever.
Watching the proceedings and thinking about the evolution of cricket over the years, I recall what one of my friends told me in a lighter vein while watching the proceeding of the IPL auction. He said that even batting legend Sunil Gavaskar would have no takers if he were to play the game called cricket these days.