October 9, 1997
BOOKS & THINGS
Another season has arrived, players are on the ground doing serious
training, preparing for the matches that lie ahead. For youngsters,
there are many things important in life but for a youngster who is also an aspiring cricketer
caught in the mad rush of making it, there is no greater intoxicant than the season's curtain raiser. Success here transforms you entirely, rockets a person
from abject anonymity to dazzling celebrity status within no time.
And everyone who holds a bat or ball out there wants a piece of that success.
This overnight change in fortunes does not happen to many -- but the very
hope, the possibility, of hitting the headlines lures increasing
numbers into the nets. No wonder the advent of every new season
brings hope for players, past disappointments are forgotten, efforts
renewed with fresh vigor.
Characteristically, in Delhi, the new season has commenced with
the usual controversy about team selection. Picking players
is always tricky because it involves opinions and judgement which someone or the other
will disagree with, and it is impossible to please or convince
everyone. But in the intensely intricate world of Delhi politics,
this exercise is even more complex, there is considerable pressure
from assorted big shots, proxy kings in the association reportedly
have a say in the matter. Even the selection of the selectors
is a major issue.
Delhi picked the right selectors (Vinay Lamba, Rakesh Shukla, Hari
Gidwani) who together picked the right players in consultation
with captain Ajay Sharma. Which in itself is a positive development
because the normal practice is for the skipper to be handed a
slip of paper with names on it. But this welcome openness displeased
some powerful persons who, aggrieved over team composition, have now
trained their guns on the selectors, even going to the extent
of berating the chairman publicly.
Hopefully, these incidents will blow over, sanity will prevail,
everyone will understand that selections depend on performance, and not
on proximity to power. Besides Ranji selection, Delhi is also concerned
about the neglect of its top players ---- despite reaching the
Ranji final, only 3 players figure in the 36 selected for the Challenger
The most prominent one missing from the list is Ajay Sharma,
who broke every conceivable batting record in Indian domestic
cricket last year by smashing five successive hundreds. For his efforts,
Ajay was rewarded with the captaincy of the India A side to Dacca
and later sent to Bangalore as an India probable. But there, he hardly
got a knock in the netsand returned with nothing more than an
encouraging pat on the back from Madan Lal.
Only a little less tragic in the story of Atul Wassan, last year's highest
wicket taker in India. If Kuruvilla can make it, as can Robin Singh
at 34 when seriously contemplating retirement, so can Atul. He
is fit, committed and what is quite significant is that he can bat effectively,
unlike others in the lower order who are incapable of putting bat
It is nor just a question of what happens to Ajay or Wassan, the
larger issue is about the value of Ranji Trophy competitions itself. If top performers and
outstanding performances in the country's premier domestic tournament don't count, then something is seriously
Why allow a situation where the national championship is
devalued to the extent it becomes meaningless?
The continued neglect of Delhi also points to the harsh reality
that in cricket, ultimately, only power matters. If the DDCA had the clout and position befitting its status. As one of India's oldest
associations, nobody would mess around with it -- but the DDCA through
its own actions has lost preeminence in the board, it hardly counts
for anything these days, it is very much a part of cricket's forgotten third
world. Last few years zonal vice presidents have come from Kashmir
and Himachal, neither of whom have teams fit to play first class cricket, whereas
Delhi is shoved to languish on the periphery. If Delhi players are
not getting the right breaks, it reflects Delhi's low position
in the power structure. That is reality.
But Delhi is not a team of battle scarred veterans, the seniors are enthusiastic,
keen to have another go. Raman Lamba (1000 runs last season) views
cricket as a challenge, where each match is an exam and success
a massive kick. It is increasingly difficult, training is killing,
there are a hundred other things to do and which can be done to more profit, but the high of cricket
is unbeatable, he says.
Wasan (300 first class wickets) too soldiers on, wanting to prove
a point, to others and to himself, that he is good enough. Recently
he competed in the Hong Kong sixes, a rich tournament with hefty
appearance and prize money, with other top players.
Apart from the presence of these hardened pros, Delhi suddenly
is flush with young, fit, energetic and talented youngsters. Talent usually arrives
in cyclical phases, there are periods of plenty and others of paucity, and
currently there seems to be a tremendous upsurge. Almost out of
nowhere, after some years of drought, there is a horde of with-it kids pushing for places. Pankaj Joshi moved up the ladder from
under 16 to Ranji last year, Ashu Dani made a huge hundred in
the final, Akash Chopra and Mithun Minhas are immensely talented,
both made big runs for India Under-19.
There are others too -- like Aashish Mehra, a sharp left arm medium pacer picked up from the obscurity
of club cricket. Akash Malhotra is consistent in the middle order,
spinner Nikhil Chopra and Rahul Sanghvi have progressed, and emerging quickie Robin Singh should also be playing a larger role soon.
Sport depends on confidence, there is a certain
electricity about a successful team. When the Aussies walk out
of the pavilion their attitude is that of champions, even if they happen to be following on 300 runs behind. Likewise, when Viv Richards strode to the crease, he conveyed
an impression of supreme arrogance. Cocky about his talent, utterly dismissive
about his opponents.
Delhi too, for some inexplicable reason, is on a high, they are
determined and they seem to have the swagger, these days, that was once associated only with Bombay. But this feeling, however precious, isn't enough
in itself and, to enhance performance, they have inducted trainer
Tej Kishan Kaul to work on the boys. A manager is also in place, now.
While the Delhi boys were working out on recent afternoon, Madan Lal arrived and, seeing
them bend their backs, remarked that domestic and international
cricket were entirely different. Cricket in India is too soft,
success comes too easily, the system allows mediocre talent to make it to the larger stage. And when they get there, they get found out, exposed in two minutes by pros on the Test
circuit. Madan is an old Delhi hand, imported into Delhi from
Punjab by Bishen Bedi, and given a free hand he'd love to work
on youngsters, improve their fitness and fielding, make them flight.
And if they don't respond, Madan at one time would inflict a solid whack
on their respective posteriors.
May be this is a very simplistic, age old, man management theory
which only extols the virtue of the stick and not the
carrot. A modern day guru, steeped in the traditions of motivation,
might be aghast at this crudity but, in North India, seldom do subtleties
work, you need to be very loud, very strict, very tough. This works in society, it holds good for cricket as well.
Meanwhile, unmindful of these complexities, a strong Delhi team
is poised to put its best padded foot forward in the season just begun.