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The new season of domestic cricket kicks off next week when Delhi, my team, take on the champion team from Pakistan at the Kotla. To be honest it seems like only yesterday that we were packing our bags after the last game of the IPL, but that's the way cricket is these days. We are certainly not complaining, though. The more cricket we get to play (we being those playing first-class cricket), the more opportunities we get to perform and get noticed, meanwhile also earning a bit of money, which is vital for a first-class cricketer.
There's never really an off-season these days, even for first-class cricketers unless they choose it to be that way. As soon as the season is over, a few go to England to play club cricket during the summer while the rest play for the organisations they work for in summer tournaments.
The ones who go to England have it a little easy as the matches are played only on weekends. During the week, they can plan their off-season training schedule as they desire, but life isn't that rosy for the ones working for different organisations back home. They find it tough to keep going in the same vein after the gruelling first-class season has finally come to an end. There are obviously a few niggles following a long season, especially if one has done well and spent long hours on the field, and a breather is almost necessary. But the organisations they're working for would have none of it. They pay these players round the year only to have them playing during this off-season. So fatigue and niggles be damned, they must turn up and do well for their employers. You can't always get what you want.
I didn't go to England this year as I had had a very long season that started in September last year and finished in May. I wanted to give myself a break, and hence chose to stay in Delhi and spend some time with my family and friends, and more importantly away from the game for a while. One needs to unwind properly in order to be 100% ready for the next assignment. If the previous assignment happens to be a nine-month-long first-class season, if you add the IPL to it, one must regroup mentally and physically to find that hunger again before embarking on the journey for the next season.
But being away from the game doesn't mean not doing anything. My mantra during the off-season is something that my dad learnt during his days in the Air Force: the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. We might not be preparing for a war, but a first-class season can come close to one. So while I stayed away from active cricket for a couple of months, I spent a lot of time trying to get my body in shape, hoping that it ensures an injury-free season. Not that it works that way all the time, but it often does.
This being the first domestic season after the IPL, I'm told there will be a lot more people following the cricket this year as some of the domestic players have become household names after their performances in the IPL. Apparently people would want to know a lot more about these newborn stars, and therefore would follow their progress even when they're playing for their respective state sides instead of their franchises. I'm also told that all this attention would put more pressure on the guys to perform in the domestic circuit this year.
If this turns out to be the case, all of us who have been playing first-class cricket for empty stands so far would be very happy indeed. We'd be delighted if instead of having to look for our names in the newspapers when we've done well, we find our performances played up nicely. And if all this adds a bit of extra pressure, we're more than willing to endure that.
This is the journey I'm going to embark on once again, but this year I won't be alone; I'll share it with all of you. Welcome aboard.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.