October 29, 2008

Ticket to Kotla

The Delhi players would have loved to go and watch Gautam Gambhir score his second hundred against Australia, but they had to wait - unsuccessfully - for the tickets they are entitled to

Dear readers

How can I not write about my Delhi team-mate when he has got two consecutive centuries against Australia? Especially when the second one has come on our home ground, Feroz Shah Kotla. Gautam Gambhir has taken huge strides in the last one year. All of us in the Delhi team are proud of what he's achieved, and look to him for inspiration.

I could have gone to the Kotla to watch the game after my practice, but as it so often happens in Delhi the two tickets I'm entitled to - being an Indian player - still haven't reached my place. I've been told they're on their way, but day one has already passed, and with that the opportunity to watch a Delhi player excel. Mind you, I'm not the only one: none of us in the Delhi Ranji Trophy team has received a ticket - a first-class cricketer gets one in Delhi. Anyhow, that's the way our system works.

Another thing I wanted to write about is junior cricket. We've been keenly watching the results and performances at Under-22 and Under-19 levels. These kids are our immediate supply line, and as and when we need any replacements we'd be looking to them. Since we have not been able to watch the game ourselves, we go by what we hear from people at the ground, and read about it next day in the papers. Apparently these games are played with SG Tournament balls. For an outsider it might not make any difference as it's still a red ball, made of leather and weighing 5 ½ oz, but for cricketers it means a lot. The behaviour of the ball depends a lot on its quality.

The SG Test ball that is used in first-class and Test cricket in India is relatively soft (made with a soft cork inside and a finer quality of leather) with a very pronounced seam. The ball doesn't move too much, but once it gets a little old, if maintained properly, it swings throughout the day. The ball comes a bit slower off the surface unless it's been made to pitch on the seam. The only way to succeed with an SG Test ball is to land it on the seam, for otherwise you're doomed. On the contrary, the SG Tournament ball has a lot more glaze on it, and is made with hard cork and not-so-fine leather. The ball does a lot when it's new, and travels much quicker after pitching even when it is not pitched on the seam.

The figures we see at the end of the game could be quite misleading. You can't pick a fast bowler just because he wreaked havoc with that ball in the winters in north India. Spinners get less purchase, and hence shouldn't be condemned, and poor openers might not get big scores. The whole exercise of having an age-group tournament seems somewhat futile as it doesn't present a true picture of the talent available. Just to rub it in, the politicking at junior levels is beyond our comprehension. But one works within the system, and hopes that players like Gautam, Viru [Virender Sehwag] and Ishant [Sharma] keep coming good for Delhi and India despite these hurdles.

PS: I'm eagerly waiting for the tickets to come so that either I can go watch the match or pass it on to one of my nephews who have been crying to go to the ground all day.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here