We, in India, adore our national cricketers; confer them with God-like status. When they take to field, our national pride is at stake. We envy their riches, their cult-like position, their popularity, their presence in the hearts and minds of millions.
But there are only a few, lucky fellows in the country, who break into the national team and establish themselves as heroes. In a country which is obsessed with the game, every cricketer grows up with the single aim of playing in the national team. But there is a rather dark side behind the glory, generally associated with cricket in India.
Aakash Chopra, who represented India in 10 Tests between 2003 and 2004, wonderfully delineates this bleak face of cricket in India in his recently published autobiographical book ‘Beyond the Blues’.
The book is a diary of 2007-08 domestic season in India when Chopra’s state team, Delhi, went on to clinch the Ranji Trophy after a long hiatus of 16 years and his zonal side, North Zone, stamped their supremacy in Duleep Trophy.
Little-known domestic players are the chief protagonists of the book, which has a tinge of humour written all over it. ‘Beyond the Blues’ is an expression of agony, ordeal, ecstasy and that of hopes of thousands of cricketers, who dream of donning India colours one day. The book also describes the inner struggle of the writer, who despite being the highest run-getter of the season, could not break into Team India again.
Aakash is a good student of the game and an astute observer of human beings and situations around him. Having seen both - the glittering world as a national player and the gloomy side of domestic circuit in India- he can easily empathize with his fellow cricketers, who keep on performing, day in and day out, without any recognition.
In an honest attempt to depict the sordid reality of Indian cricket culture, Aakash points out the follies in our system and the myopic outlooks of its administrators in his path-breaking work.
The book also points out the different aspects of domestic cricket, the pitiable standards and partial nature of the umpires, the politics around selections, the unprofessional itinerary and the shabby accommodation for the players, among other unflattering observations.
The book sheds light on the dilemma over T20 cricket for the copybook batsmen like the writer himself who, until the shorter version revolutionized cricket, viewed the game from a completely different perspective.
Flipping through the pages of the book, which is really a unique attempt to bring forth the lives of domestic cricketers, one empathizes with the poor souls, who despite knowing the fact that the game can no longer earn them fame, spend their days under the baking sun just for the love of the sport, for the joy of hearing the sound of the bat hitting the ball or the ball hitting the timber after wheezing through the gap between bat and pad.
While describing his own agony of not getting a national re-call despite scoring heavily in first-class level, Chopra finds solace while comparing his fate with those who have not got any opportunity to play for the country. “They (domestic players) need to keep for long as it takes to get recognition even if it comes at the domestic level. But to constantly live with the possibility that someone who has performed a lot less than you might get the nod ahead of you must be heartbreaking. For the rest of us who have been blessed enough to see the other side, to make something out of our dreams, however, briefly, periodic chats with players like Rajat (Bhatia), wonderful team-men and great mates, should be mandatory. It would teach us to value what we have.”
In another place Aakash writes, “Being an India cricketer is hell in many ways, because of the intense scrutiny you are subjected to by a billion people. But not being an Indian player is worse.”
The book is replete with anecdotes about the unsung heroes of the Indian cricket. Take the example of a Himachal Pradesh lad playing with worn-out gloves or the heart rendering story of Yashpal Singh of Services, who had no other way out but to join Indian Navy as a clerk because he did not have sufficient money for the treatment of his ailing father. Despite performing well players like Yashpal have to live far away from the dazzling world of men in blues.
And then, there is former team India player Sujith Somesundar, who, like the writer, was part of the men in blues for a while, is so disenchanted with the system that he doesn’t want to talk cricket- a passion for which he spent his entire youth.
So, next time when you see a newcomer dropping a catch, or bowling a wrong line, or getting out while playing a rash shot, spare a thought for the poor soul before passing on a vitriolic comment or gunning for his head, because he does not do it intentionally. No sportsperson in the world wants to perform badly and let his countrymen down by giving a below par performance.
Anybody, who loves the game, must read this book to know that there is a life “Beyond the Blues”.