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Goa-Mumbai-Jammu looked slightly better on paper than our last arduous travel route starting from Guwahati via Kolkata and Mumbai to reach Goa. While the latter had taken about seven hours of total travel time to cover the distance, this one from Goa to Jammu ought to have been a much smoother ride, or so we thought! Cricket, domestic cricket even more so, teaches you the meaning of "traveling the length and breadth" and "living out of a suitcase" like nothing else does.
After a back-breaking ten-hour ride, on the road, in the air, and through the mountains, we reached Jammu. While family and friends envy us for getting to explore a wide array of Indian cities, we'd happily give our right arms to play all our games at home. It isn't fun, after all, to pack, unpack, catch flights at odd hours, catch sleep on bumpy seats, and still endure the pressure to perform on the pitch next morning. So much for the love of the game.
Anyone who's played a four-day match would know that sound sleep of seven to eight hours is a major causality on match-days, as you don't completely switch off until the match gets over. That is why, to most of us, the night of the last day of the match is of utmost importance. It is crucial for recovery; having missed on one, the player might take a lot longer to return to a normal pattern. Since travel to the next venue starts early next morning or even the night of the last day of the match, sleep becomes a victim.
Players, though, long ago made peace with such 'peripheral' matters. The overarching "chalta-hai" attitude had long found its way into Indian domestic cricket, and has since then been more or less made to feel at home.But it's issues that directly affect a player's performance, like the ground conditions at various venues for first-class cricket, that raise eyebrows, and rightly so.
A day after reaching Jammu, we decided to get some practice on the ground, and decided to check the venue - at the medical college of the city. While the team wanted to acclimatise with the conditions, I, in search of form, looked forward to a good net session. But that was a bit too much to ask for because the pitch provided to us for the net sessions was damp.
Soon after taking a blow on the shoulder while playing a forward defensive shot, I realised it was a futile exercise and that I was better off taking a few throw-downs instead. When I enquired from the opposition camp, I was stunned to know that getting a damp pitch for practice was the norm here. I couldn't help but feel for my colleagues from J&K.
But that apart, the match was played on one of the best 22 yards available in the country. There was decent lateral movement and carry for the faster bowlers, and the ball also gripped and turned for the spinners. It was an ideal surface to challenge everyone involved. Wish I could say such flattering things for the outfield and the dressing room too.
The outfield had grass in patches and was terribly uneven, so much so that one of the J&K players got hit under the eye while attempting to stop a cover-drive. He needed four stitches, and it meant he would miss the last round of Ranji Trophy.
The dressing room was a room only big enough to house 15 kit bags without their owners; the players sat outside under a makeshift tent. It goes without saying it was quite distressing to sit in the open in biting December cold.
Moving on to Guwahati. How would you react if you'd walk into a cricket ground, which is also a venue for international matches, to find that two football fields are marked with chalk on either side of the square? In addition, the green on the ground is just weed and not normal grass. As a result, the spikes don't get firm footing and the ball skids off the surface as if it were glass.
The dressing room is just about okay but the lavatory, which is attached to the room, starts stinking after only a few hours into the day because of the lack of good sanitation and water. You are not only advised to keep the lavatory door completely shut, for the food is also served in the same room, but also to use the dressing room as little as possible.
Another incredible thing about this particular venue is that there's only one strip available for the Ranji matches and therefore the curator's job is cut out pretty clearly. Whenever there are two consecutive home games, the thought on top of his mind is to make the strip playable, as there isn't enough time to prepare a proper pitch for a good game of cricket. And this ground has hosted many international matches.
Both JKCA and ACA, like other state associations, get grants from the BCCI that run into several crores every year. It is a pity that even after several years of hosting the Ranji Trophy, these associations don't have their own ground; the mentioned grounds in Jammu and Guwahati are taken on lease from the Medical College and the State Sports Council respectively by the associations.
Perhaps the time has come for the BCCI to hold these associations accountable, since the money distributed to them is for the development of cricket in the state. Where is it being spent?
PS: If someone could, kindly review the logistic departments as well.
© 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.