How Aakash and Rajasthan overcame their blues…

Biswajit Jha

When the former India opener Aakash Chopra wrote his debut book, Beyond the Blue, there were only a few people ready to accept him as a writer. But, Aakash the writer has finally established himself among the rare category of player-writers (Peter Roebuck, Ed Smith, Ed Cowan, Mike Atherton being the other members) with his latest book, Out of the Blue, a tale of triumphant journey of the underdog Rajasthan cricket team.

If the first book, which was basically a collection of daily dairies, had the nervousness of a debut innings, the second book is definitely a more matured one. In these four years Aakash has written for several newspapers, websites, and no doubt that he has developed his skills as a writer.

What makes Aakash a good writer and his book Out of the Blue a gripping one is his talent to have a third person’s view even when he is one of the central characters of the whole story. Like a good narrator he can detach himself from any situation and event and describe it impartially. Not an easy task, tough. Only an honest and professional man can do it. It’s not an easy job to write about those with whom you spend most of your time, with whom you share a very personal rapport. You can be biased. You can lose a friend. You can upset an official. You can be in trouble. Peter Roebuck used to avoid personal interactions with the players lest his analysis get influenced by personal relations.

Aakash has this unique quality, a rare art of being soft even when he is pointing out some flaws in the system. I know Aakash since 2008. Unlike other ‘celebrities’, he doesn’t have this sense of vanity. He never wants to thrive in mystery. He never hesitates to tell the truth, never holds back his opinions for his own personal gains.

And with the same honesty and forthrightness, he has approached the book. No wonder the book has become one of the central points of discussion on how to improve the quality of first class cricket in India, a burning topic after India’s abject humiliations on the foreign trips.

Sport is all about unpredictability. Sport is struggle, fighting against all odds. Sometimes you have to fight your own inner battles --the doubts of every sportsperson; sometimes it may be your personal sufferings or the fear of failure in the field. The inner struggles make sportsmen vulnerable.

The book describes one of the biggest upsets in Indian domestic cricket. How Rajasthan, a team which was languishing at the bottom in the previous season, went on to win their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2010-11 season.

Apart from Chopra and skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar (known for his last ball four which helped India win against Pakistan ages back!) and Pankaj Singh, most of the team members were unknown cricketers from far of lands in India. Gajendra Singh, Sumit Mathur, Vaibhav Deshpandey, Rohit Jhalani, Madhur Khatri, Robin Bist, Vivek Yadav, Vineet Saxena and Ashok Manerai were not the names Indian fans could connect with instantly. The book brings to you the stories of these unknown cricketers. It is a tale of their struggle, their never-say-die attitude in the face of adversities and personal tragedies.

Thousands of players play first-class cricket in India. Everyone dreams of playing for India. But only a handful of them go on to realise the dream. So, what makes others keep playing the game when there is no hope for a place in the Indian team? It is the love of the game. The love of hearing the sound when the ball hits the willow, the sight of the cherry shattering the stumps, the smell of the grass, the goosebumps before going out to bat or starting a new spell…

We know the stars. But we hardly know the making of stars. People hardly know how Robin Bist travelled all the way from Delhi to play for Rajasthan after failing to get into the Delhi team. When you hear opener Vineet Saxena had to suffer the deaths of his father and his daughter within a few months and come out to play for Rajasthan, you certainly feel that it is not possible if one doesn’t love the game so much.

But more than the stories of the cricketers and descriptions of their joyous and victorious journeys from obscurity, the book will be a milestone in the history of Indian cricket for it has illustrated the follies of the domestic cricket structure, and that too by a person who has firsthand experience of playing for the past 15 years. The pitches, the umpires, the points system, the condition of the grounds, the attitude of the cricket administrators- everything has found a place in his descriptions of the players and the matches in the book.

Aakash, being a good student of the game as well as a keen observer, has shared his experiences which are pegging India back from having a successful cricket structure. This book may not be a cricketing classic but there is no doubt that Out of the Blue would be a handbook of domestic cricket in India.

When Aakash left Delhi before the 2010-11 season, he hardly knew what was in store for him. His future was uncertain as Rajasthan’s. It was not an easy decision to leave his home state after so many years.

Experience, as they say, is what you get when you don’t get what you want. Aakash was treated badly by the DDCA authorities. It made him wiser as a player as well as a writer.

It seems the God had planned everything perfectly for Aakash. He penned down the successful journey of Delhi in 2007-08. He had to be sent to a team which would go on to win two back-to-back Ranji titles so that their journeys could be chronicled. Rajasthan needed a man to make them immortals and sketch them in the pages of history. Delhi’s loss was Rajasthan’s gain. Destiny, definitely played its part. It conspired in a way that cricket literature got richer.

Rajasthan was an unlikely destination for Aakash. Impossible does happen in life. It has happened to Aakash. It has happened to Rajasthan. It can happen to any sportsman…anybody. At least Out of the Blue tells us that…