Ranji Trophy, 2012-13 November 9, 2012

For the love of the game

Memories of the majestic Armani Hotel in Dubai zip past my mind
43

Memories of the majestic Armani Hotel in Dubai zip past my mind. That evening, immaculately orchestrated musical fountains had made for a beautiful backdrop for a rendezvous with friends over some delectable kebabs. Two months later, as I now spend time in a small district called Nadaun in Himachal Pradesh, that awe-inspiring opulence comes back to nudge me, almost mockingly. The background for the cook preparing my basic dal, vegetable and chapatis is an open kitchen with a faint halogen bulb hanging loosely. The menu is painted on the wall and steel pots with a variety of dishes left uncovered for the flies to enjoy a game of peek-a-boo.

Having survived a couple of nights in the best hotel the town could offer, I decided to venture out and look for food - good food. After walking past a couple of dhabas, I settle for "Kamal Da Dhaba", decorated with hordes of fancy lights, an attention-seeking tactic that almost always works. It was reasonably busy, which could be a sign of good food. The chef, wearing a striped T-shirt full of grease stains, had replaced the prim waiters at the Dubai Hotel, while fine china and upholstery had made way for plain steel plates and a dilapidated wooden table. The only thing that could have saved this eatery a bad report card would have been its food.

However, just before the waiter served the chapati, he scratched his head and used the same hand to serve. That was the last straw. I tell you this story in a cricket blog because sometimes, as fans of a sport we love so much, we need to look beyond the gloss and confront the grim.

I can either feel happy or despondent about my current predicament. Happy because anyone who has been a part of first-class cricket in India for over a decade now realises that we have come a long way from the time when we used to stay in dormitories and classrooms when playing various school or university tournaments. Cricket in India has primarily been a winter sport, which makes basic facilities look shoddy. There were never enough mattresses or blankets to keep you warm during the night, and the morning shower was always under a freezing stream of water. The lack of cleanliness of shared lavatories forced most of us to take a dump in the open. The worst part of using these open fields early morning was the pig who would be feeding on your faeces right before you.

If you find reading this repulsive, imagine having gone through it for years. And for someone who has been through this, an hotel room with a private washroom and food on order, however basic that be, should be considered a luxury. However, in Indian sport culture, all this is believed to build character. It is supposed to makes you "rough and tough", to prepare you for challenges on the field. By that logic, America, England, China should never do well in sports.

Then there is the other life an Indian cricketer leads, the addictive kind, when playing international or IPL cricket. These matches are never held in small centres, which means nothing short of five-star facilities for the players. We are served world-class cuisines by the best of chefs. Travel is only by air or on road by air-conditioned deluxe coaches as opposed to rickety tempo travellers or "jeeps" that ferry players twice their seating capacity. The entire world is at your beck and call, unlike how it is in domestic cricket, where you're left to your own devices.

The next time you see a player of stature, one who has played for the country, pick up a niggle during a domestic match played in an obscure centre, just wonder if it is the lack of the facilities that is hurting him. The ones who have not played for the country but are regulars in the IPL share the sentiment, but just a little less strongly. Since they know there is another mountain to climb before they play for the country, they put in the hard yards, albeit grudgingly.

The disparity between both the worlds is huge. It doesn't matter that much to me now. Everyone likes a good life, and I personally think it has some impact on the performance. A good night's sleep is the best way to cool the heels and prepare for the sprint next morning. However, it's the love of the game that keeps me and many other veterans on the circuit going. To us nothing matters but the sound of bat on ball, or click of the edge taken with an outswinger. That can be your only drive. I dread the day I will strap my pads on, put on my helmet, get my gear ready and walk towards the crease one last time. For a true sportsman nothing is as important as being able to pursue this love for as long as he can.

Cricket is a great teacher. It teaches you patience. It teaches you to be immune to things you can't control. It makes you appreciate the little joys and take bitter disappointments in your stride. Love for the game is all I need at this time of life. It makes the heart see what is invisible to the eye.

This is my 16th year of playing Ranji Trophy. Sanjay Bangar, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Sairaj Bahutule have been representing their states for far longer. Year after year, they step on the field with the same enthusiasm as they showed in their first game. Such is the love of the sport.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kushagar jamwal on January 30, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    first of all akash bhai iam from hiamchal ,kangra district live near the stadium ...a smile of embarrassment came to my face dat in nadaun u suffer with poor services ..but u rightly said dat it is the love of the game dat make all other things good..hope upcoming generation learnt something about dat...

  • Brenno on December 23, 2012, 0:01 GMT

    Great article, from an Australian point of view, where our first class cricketers, all the way down to our elite junior cricketers, enjoy the use of excellent facilities, it really is an eye opener to the situation in Indian cricket, and Indian society in general. As always it was another great article and a pleasure to read, well done Aakash.

  • swapnil agarwal on November 19, 2012, 13:52 GMT

    what an article.........articles like these make me get emotional.......Aakash you are a wonderful writer.....its so weird that I can relate to anything and everything you say in your blogs. "LOVE OF THE GAME" it is.......

  • ASMA SINGH on November 16, 2012, 6:34 GMT

    Hello,

    It was simply awesome to read such a wonderful blog.I really loved it Akash Sir.

  • BALAJI RAMANATHAN on November 12, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    well written akaash..... ur blogs always had a touch of truth and honesty in it and i could see that in this also. any cricketer who honestly love the game would't mind the facilities thrown to them beyond cricket. its the passion for the game which will make true cricketers to forget the facilities and concentrate on FACING THE FIRST BALL which is still very addictive to many!!!! well written and keep giving us good bolgs like these....

  • Leslie Aloysious on November 11, 2012, 16:44 GMT

    Akash, I'm a vivid follower of your blogs sheerly because of the technicalities you involve in and the knowledged you bring in.

    The volume of runs guys are piling in Ranji this year is not at all heart warming. On top of that the selectors did not value domestic performance when they selected players like Murali Vijay. Moreover if players are allowed to pile up triple hundreds and double hundreds on these dumb pitches which dont even turn nowadays, India will again go back to their dumb old days and cut a sorry figure in lively pitches abroad. When will the wise guys bring in people who have a vision to nurture players who have technique to play in bouncy pitches with guts, the Indian fan can just keep on dreaming - they pray the wise men show some wisdome when they select and groom the players!!!

  • sudi on November 11, 2012, 15:56 GMT

    and my school paid us Rs 5 per day irrespective of no of matches played on the same day (but atleast 1)...Just enough to buy a nimboo sharbat at aazad maidan in Mumbai...I miss those magical days of school cricket

  • Gaurav on November 11, 2012, 15:13 GMT

    @Mukunda that was bit too much over the head. There are greater people to get WISDOM from

  • Sandip on November 11, 2012, 14:35 GMT

    Well Written Aakash, you writings are contiguous. Keep on going, you have lots of fan always waiting to read your articles...

  • Aakash Chopra on November 11, 2012, 14:21 GMT

    Hello everyone,

    Many thanks for your valuable feedback. It means a lot to me and my peers playing in first-class cricket that there're so many out there who follow Indian domestic cricket as fervently as they follow International cricket. Please feel free to mention anything in particular that you'd like to know about Indian domestic cricket.

    Keep writing your feedback.

    Cheers,

    Aakash Chopra

  • kushagar jamwal on January 30, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    first of all akash bhai iam from hiamchal ,kangra district live near the stadium ...a smile of embarrassment came to my face dat in nadaun u suffer with poor services ..but u rightly said dat it is the love of the game dat make all other things good..hope upcoming generation learnt something about dat...

  • Brenno on December 23, 2012, 0:01 GMT

    Great article, from an Australian point of view, where our first class cricketers, all the way down to our elite junior cricketers, enjoy the use of excellent facilities, it really is an eye opener to the situation in Indian cricket, and Indian society in general. As always it was another great article and a pleasure to read, well done Aakash.

  • swapnil agarwal on November 19, 2012, 13:52 GMT

    what an article.........articles like these make me get emotional.......Aakash you are a wonderful writer.....its so weird that I can relate to anything and everything you say in your blogs. "LOVE OF THE GAME" it is.......

  • ASMA SINGH on November 16, 2012, 6:34 GMT

    Hello,

    It was simply awesome to read such a wonderful blog.I really loved it Akash Sir.

  • BALAJI RAMANATHAN on November 12, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    well written akaash..... ur blogs always had a touch of truth and honesty in it and i could see that in this also. any cricketer who honestly love the game would't mind the facilities thrown to them beyond cricket. its the passion for the game which will make true cricketers to forget the facilities and concentrate on FACING THE FIRST BALL which is still very addictive to many!!!! well written and keep giving us good bolgs like these....

  • Leslie Aloysious on November 11, 2012, 16:44 GMT

    Akash, I'm a vivid follower of your blogs sheerly because of the technicalities you involve in and the knowledged you bring in.

    The volume of runs guys are piling in Ranji this year is not at all heart warming. On top of that the selectors did not value domestic performance when they selected players like Murali Vijay. Moreover if players are allowed to pile up triple hundreds and double hundreds on these dumb pitches which dont even turn nowadays, India will again go back to their dumb old days and cut a sorry figure in lively pitches abroad. When will the wise guys bring in people who have a vision to nurture players who have technique to play in bouncy pitches with guts, the Indian fan can just keep on dreaming - they pray the wise men show some wisdome when they select and groom the players!!!

  • sudi on November 11, 2012, 15:56 GMT

    and my school paid us Rs 5 per day irrespective of no of matches played on the same day (but atleast 1)...Just enough to buy a nimboo sharbat at aazad maidan in Mumbai...I miss those magical days of school cricket

  • Gaurav on November 11, 2012, 15:13 GMT

    @Mukunda that was bit too much over the head. There are greater people to get WISDOM from

  • Sandip on November 11, 2012, 14:35 GMT

    Well Written Aakash, you writings are contiguous. Keep on going, you have lots of fan always waiting to read your articles...

  • Aakash Chopra on November 11, 2012, 14:21 GMT

    Hello everyone,

    Many thanks for your valuable feedback. It means a lot to me and my peers playing in first-class cricket that there're so many out there who follow Indian domestic cricket as fervently as they follow International cricket. Please feel free to mention anything in particular that you'd like to know about Indian domestic cricket.

    Keep writing your feedback.

    Cheers,

    Aakash Chopra

  • Mukunda Singrachar on November 10, 2012, 18:02 GMT

    Akash, to be honest I was never thrilled with your cricket, blame the likes of gavaskar or vvs lakshman or Brian Lara for that. But through your blogs I see what a great human being you are and my head bows in humility. Your writings are so honest. Damn it , it affects in a far deeper way than any of the great cricket I have seen. In fact you are the Neville cardius of India without his lack of actual cricketing experience. I thank god I get to live in the same duration as you. I wish I can meet you sometimes and get enriched with your wisdom.

  • Anand on November 10, 2012, 17:42 GMT

    Amazing, almost had tears in my eyes. Its the love of the game and players like you that keeps us fans going as well :)

  • Gautam on November 10, 2012, 14:47 GMT

    Great artcile - The gap between IPL/Intl cricket & domestic is terryfying, BCCI shld bridge this gap but i do belive BCCI has acted & things have improved in last 5-7 yrs for domestic cricketers. And lets face it - all walks of life has its own struggle and its not just cricket. I feel nowadays even domestic cricketers earn more than what a Engineering or a finance professional earns in India (who also have to slaugh for 12 hrs a day) so dont find a reason to complaint, although i do agree that we need better infrastructure for sports (not just cricket). Also top Indian cricketers are highly overpaid, cant imagine some of the top players of the world (who are much better cricketers) are not even earning half of what Indian players get.

    Lastly i remain big cricket fan (having played for my state for 6-7 years) U wre grt in Australia and unforunate we didnt see lot more of u in Intl cricket... all d best for ur future.

  • Amit Raj Mishra on November 10, 2012, 14:08 GMT

    Its a treat reading your blogs..... Just love them... Keep writing...

  • kesavkoundinya on November 10, 2012, 12:57 GMT

    wonderful piece like always from AC. Missed the like Hemang Badani

    kanithker, Murali karthick , sanjay Bangar DAda all these had still wants to be there in some from other. New roles like umpiring ,ICC match Referee , cricket comment raters, Its love for game , but also money and lime light. even in our work ethics also at the start its stragule only. eat and drink for survival. and enjoy best of things like food and drinks.but passion for the game/ work should keep up the spirit. Ac should go for commentary

  • Nanda on November 10, 2012, 12:54 GMT

    This a perfect staright drive from an opener...

  • Indian on November 10, 2012, 12:52 GMT

    Although it was interesting I will be eager to read Part2 of this Blog with more positive aspects of you and other cricketer's struggles in last 20 years bcci's professional system under development...i guess the battle has been won by survivors who had tasted some success in IPL or by represented India internationally...And this is the ultimate goal of any budding cricketer...

  • Vishy on November 10, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    Well written with lots of humour and reality. Pity that there is no proper infrastructure for first class cricketers playing for small states. In the name of popularising the sport BCCI is taking the game to every nook and corner. While the idea is good, the sports body has to provide basic facilities for the budding and veteran cricketers. Love your attitude for the sport AKASH. Keep going till your body cooperates.

  • saad on November 10, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    so much vocab !!.. wonderful preparation for my IELTS next week. well written

  • mridul mahajan (himachal pardesh) on November 10, 2012, 11:21 GMT

    life mai kabhee bhaee money kae liya nahee khelna hotaa hai . himachal mai jiss tarhaa ke faclity hai its good as more and more cricket playing in himachal it will develp the standard of himachal cricket ..... and i requested to bcci please try and give more match to organise in the himachal weather it is a national or international..........

  • Vishal Gulati on November 10, 2012, 10:35 GMT

    You have penned down a lovely piece of article with the magical use of words. Really Nice One! Thanks for giving a great insight on the real scenarios behind the scene. It is the love and passion for the game which matter the most, doesn't matter glories and riches comes along or not.

    The picture in your article "A day in the life: From eating room service at five-star hotels to dhabas infested with flies, I have done it all while playing first-class cricket" is portraying your story really well.

    Hats off to Aakash Chopra, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Sairaj Bahutule... Great Human beings and real Ambassadors of the game!

    Cheers, Vishal

  • rashid on November 10, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    Nice, its remembered me the days i had spent in Osmaniya University in Hyderabad with my University team for playing softball championship. They arranged our accommodation in a lower primary school and almost 15 teams are staying together from different part of country. Once we reached the school, team captain informed to contact the person on charge of school and he given a bucket. We all surprised and look to each other. And didn't took time to realize its for using all kind of washing for team members. Water pumped to the big tank settled in the middle of small ground and players taking the bath near tank. School have only two bathrooms and so almost all are taking dump in open air.

    it was not too long ago, it was in 2008..

  • Jack L on November 10, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    I was compelled to comment on your article.

    This is what writing should be-truthful and more than skin deep. Thank you so much Akash for your writing. Hats off for your passion and dedication to cricket.

  • Rakesh on November 10, 2012, 6:54 GMT

    Aakash,

    As always, your article stands out and connects so well to the very basic thinking of cricket lovers.

    Loved your patience filled innings in India's tour of Australia back in 2004.... Loved all your articles till date and loved this one too.

    Kudos to the commitment (Love probably!) shown towards the game of cricket by you and fellow cricketers. Keep writing such beautiful pieces.

  • Goel88 on November 10, 2012, 6:50 GMT

    " The worst part of using these open fields early morning was the pig who would be feeding on your faeces right before you"- Dafuq I just read. Anyways, good blogpost keep them coming, Akash

  • Santhosh Jayakumar on November 10, 2012, 4:58 GMT

    Good one... Things would stay the same since there is clamor for smaller centers since it draws crowds to the game which in a way is a good stimulant for veterans of the game... You missed Amol Mazumdar who has been playing for 18+ years w/o India experience or IPL to go with it... and having played for Assam and now Andhra, smaller cities and poor facilities to deal with...

  • Pawanchoudhary on November 10, 2012, 4:54 GMT

    Aakash bhai ....senty kar diyaa yaaar.....movies likhnaa suru kar de bhai...pkaaa superhit hogi....

  • Aparajihan on November 10, 2012, 2:56 GMT

    I think this is true of any profession, not just cricketers. The top creme de la creme get the maximum, while the majority of not-so-good or not-so-lucky, trudge it out on the daily treadmill. The difference in many cases and professions is much starker than what you describe for cricketers. And I don't think we should be making that comparison because it means we run the risk of pampering mediocrity. Not supporting the lack of toilets and such stuff, which is a larger malaise, though which I think has largely been attended to in a lot of remote centres in India over the last decade.

  • Jiju Kurian on November 10, 2012, 0:31 GMT

    Hi Aakash,

    Love to read your blogs. Saw you on the Australian tour in '03 and never imagined you wouldn't be part of plans going forward. Lack of infrastructure in India gives real meaning to 'the daily grind' to the life of people in all walks of life. I thought cricketers might have had it a bit easier than what you have mentioned. I have to salute you for having kept going for so long but I hope that once you have strapped your pads for the last time, you would get into administration and hopefully make some changes for the better for cricket as well as other sports. All the best, Jiju

  • Sudhir on November 10, 2012, 0:00 GMT

    Akash, through your articles, I have a peep into the souls of the thousands of players who play this great game of ours in India and the hardships they go through just for that high of been in the field in whites. Keep giving us this vignettes of your life as a cricketer.We have enough players writing about the county game but very few about the same in the vast land of ours.They are mighty fine read.I hope there are a few more books that you would be treating us to.

  • Robin Sen on November 9, 2012, 23:37 GMT

    Fair story Aakash. Ever tried eating a meal on the service stations on the UK motorways? A good friend of mine flashed a RAC ( car breakdown company) card at a food outlet and got laughed at whilst asking for a discount. Worse was to follow for the ex Indian player as the full price meal was terrible..now that my friend is a bad experience!! (especially with someone laughing down the phone line at him).

  • Maria Anto on November 9, 2012, 22:26 GMT

    Another very good article by Aakash.It clearly states the poor facilities faced by an average sportsman in india.

  • KC on November 9, 2012, 20:34 GMT

    Fantastic article and brings out what the journeymen in the domestic circuit go through. The BCCI with all it's vast wealth should certainly aim to improve the life of the domestic cricketer. On a positive note, the domestic tournaments and by extension, the domestic players are getting more media attention now. I watched bits and pieces of the Ranji and Duleep trophy matches via satellite TV in the US and such exposure will only help the players and the domestic game.

  • MysticMan on November 9, 2012, 20:05 GMT

    I wholeheartedly agree with the harsh realities Aakash painted here, having experienced a few myself. What you have portrayed is less graphic than in Slumdog! Your true love for the game shines through this article.

  • kartekay on November 9, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    glad u mentioned bahutule..20 years ! in terms of longevity he is in league of sachin ! pity his career never took off at international stage..but to play year after year with such distinction is amazing..for the love of the game yes..

  • Anonymous on November 9, 2012, 18:50 GMT

    Great article Aakash ... Just love the way u experience the romance of cricket and feeling that any circumstances .... No matter how ur food is ,no matter where u live.... It's just the love towards cricket....

  • arun on November 9, 2012, 18:31 GMT

    Ha Ha Ha. Very funny article. You should write more.

  • Yash on November 9, 2012, 18:12 GMT

    Wonderful blog. Very well written. Could easily visualize what all you have written. Many Indian cricket fans / critics only talk about money that the cricketers earn without knowing the sacrifices, small or big, that have gone in. Good luck and have a great season with HP. !!

  • GM on November 9, 2012, 18:11 GMT

    As always thanks for the view from the other side. For all the hard work you people put in and difficult situations you put up with, rest assured that there are millions upon millions who would rather be where you are: be Akaash Chopra. For most of those millions, cricket started as a childhood dream and remained a unfulfilled want. The pain sometimes still felt slightly, fades away when ever one reads your articles. Keep up writing in your own way.

  • GM on November 9, 2012, 18:11 GMT

    As always thanks for the view from the other side. For all the hard work you people put in and difficult situations you put up with, rest assured that there are millions upon millions who would rather be where you are: be Akaash Chopra. For most of those millions, cricket started as a childhood dream and remained a unfulfilled want. The pain sometimes still felt slightly, fades away when ever one reads your articles. Keep up writing in your own way.

  • Thamara on November 9, 2012, 18:09 GMT

    This is a very interesting article because you have put across your true feelings without any shyness. i have also gone through some difficult periods in my life and i have been able to achieve so many things too. When you reach a good status in your life having faced a lot of challenges, you can look at all the past difficult periods as something that came along to toughen you up. As south Asian's( i am a sri lankan) we all have a similar type of lives unless we are very rich. Infrastructure of our countries are in a very bad standard. I think nowadays life of cricketers is much better than it was about 15 or 20 years ago. Nowadays players have more opportunities to make money even if they are unable to get into the national team. I remember once Arjuna Ranathinga saying that in 1982, they were paid only 5000 rupees for a test match. Even in that period, it was a very small amount. So, I found this article very interesting. Good bye.

  • rinku nagar on November 9, 2012, 18:03 GMT

    well said akaash!

  • Gagan Mekala on November 9, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    Awesome! it’s the love of the game that keeps me and many other veterans on the circuit going.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Gagan Mekala on November 9, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    Awesome! it’s the love of the game that keeps me and many other veterans on the circuit going.

  • rinku nagar on November 9, 2012, 18:03 GMT

    well said akaash!

  • Thamara on November 9, 2012, 18:09 GMT

    This is a very interesting article because you have put across your true feelings without any shyness. i have also gone through some difficult periods in my life and i have been able to achieve so many things too. When you reach a good status in your life having faced a lot of challenges, you can look at all the past difficult periods as something that came along to toughen you up. As south Asian's( i am a sri lankan) we all have a similar type of lives unless we are very rich. Infrastructure of our countries are in a very bad standard. I think nowadays life of cricketers is much better than it was about 15 or 20 years ago. Nowadays players have more opportunities to make money even if they are unable to get into the national team. I remember once Arjuna Ranathinga saying that in 1982, they were paid only 5000 rupees for a test match. Even in that period, it was a very small amount. So, I found this article very interesting. Good bye.

  • GM on November 9, 2012, 18:11 GMT

    As always thanks for the view from the other side. For all the hard work you people put in and difficult situations you put up with, rest assured that there are millions upon millions who would rather be where you are: be Akaash Chopra. For most of those millions, cricket started as a childhood dream and remained a unfulfilled want. The pain sometimes still felt slightly, fades away when ever one reads your articles. Keep up writing in your own way.

  • GM on November 9, 2012, 18:11 GMT

    As always thanks for the view from the other side. For all the hard work you people put in and difficult situations you put up with, rest assured that there are millions upon millions who would rather be where you are: be Akaash Chopra. For most of those millions, cricket started as a childhood dream and remained a unfulfilled want. The pain sometimes still felt slightly, fades away when ever one reads your articles. Keep up writing in your own way.

  • Yash on November 9, 2012, 18:12 GMT

    Wonderful blog. Very well written. Could easily visualize what all you have written. Many Indian cricket fans / critics only talk about money that the cricketers earn without knowing the sacrifices, small or big, that have gone in. Good luck and have a great season with HP. !!

  • arun on November 9, 2012, 18:31 GMT

    Ha Ha Ha. Very funny article. You should write more.

  • Anonymous on November 9, 2012, 18:50 GMT

    Great article Aakash ... Just love the way u experience the romance of cricket and feeling that any circumstances .... No matter how ur food is ,no matter where u live.... It's just the love towards cricket....

  • kartekay on November 9, 2012, 19:38 GMT

    glad u mentioned bahutule..20 years ! in terms of longevity he is in league of sachin ! pity his career never took off at international stage..but to play year after year with such distinction is amazing..for the love of the game yes..

  • MysticMan on November 9, 2012, 20:05 GMT

    I wholeheartedly agree with the harsh realities Aakash painted here, having experienced a few myself. What you have portrayed is less graphic than in Slumdog! Your true love for the game shines through this article.