January 24, 2013

Indian domestic cricket

The city v small-town cricketer

Aakash Chopra
Munaf Patel celebrates after removing Alastair Cook, England v India, 3rd ODI, The Oval, September 9, 2011
The likes of Munaf Patel have been able to break the barrier for small-town cricketers  © AFP


A few years ago, when I was still playing for Delhi, I saw a young Delhi batsman struggling against short-pitched deliveries in the nets. He had the tendency to square up the moment the bowler dug it short, and to add to his woes he would also take his eye off the ball. More often than not, the ball crashed into his body or helmet. He needed a little help, obviously, but was too bigheaded to ask for it. Or perhaps he was shy. So, I made the first move and asked him about his apparent discomfort. To my disbelief he didn't acknowledge there was any particular problem while facing the short ball. When I pointed to the deliveries that had him jumping like a cat on a hot tin roof, he continued to be defiant and said that it wasn't as serious as I was making it out to be. I got the message and didn't pursue further.

Was it an aberration? Unfortunately, it wasn't. The moment you try telling a youngster about the things he may not be doing right, he would not only rubbish your observations but also 'enlighten' you on how it is done these days.

Most young cricketers from the metros have a similar mindset now: oozing with confidence, brash and close to becoming haughty. The veterans in the team don't take long to accept their new role in such a scenario, which is limited to minding their own business and offering 'limited' advice, and that too only when they are asked.

I went to Rajasthan with a similar mindset and thought of keeping to myself in the beginning, for being told to mind your own business isn't very nice. But that didn't last long, for shortly after I got acquainted with the new environment and people, kids started coming up to me for advice. They would not only listen but also follow almost every instruction. Their inquisitive nature reminded me of my younger days - a time when we used to wait for a senior cricketer to come for practice and share his experience and knowledge. During those days, the exposure to the outside world was limited and it was imperative to pick up whatever you could whenever you met these experienced cricketers. Also, observing how these successful players conducted themselves was another important tool for learning.

That's how it is in smaller state teams even now. Youngsters are far more grounded and willing to learn compared to their counterparts from big cities. The normal chats in the Delhi dressing room revolved around new gadgets, cars, Facebook likes and Twitter followers. There was a bit of cricket too, but it wasn't an all-consuming topic. There were distractions, which were increasing by the minute. Their strong social and economic background also contributed to their carefree attitude, for there wasn't a need for a back-up plan.

On the contrary, for the youth in the smaller towns of India, cricket remains their only route to get away from the struggles. The lack of exposure hurts them and the moment they interact with a senior, they use him as a window to get a peep into the world not known to them hitherto. Though they are immensely focused, since failure isn't an option, you'd rarely find a guy without a back-up plan. Most guys try to add another degree (through correspondence) to their graduation degree, and those who don't also keep saving to secure their future post their playing days.

While there are many things to appreciate about these kids from smaller towns, right from their unadulterated focus for cricket to their penchant to work harder than most, the lack of confidence in their own ability often hampers their growth. Their lack of confidence stems from their lack of exposure to the outside world and also the lack of good infrastructure in their own towns.

After playing two seasons for Rajasthan and a season for Himachal Pradesh, I believe that it isn't the dearth of talent that's stopping smaller teams but essentially the lack of similar opportunities, experience and confidence. The ones who manage to break that barrier and are fortunate enough to venture outside from an early age have managed to shed those inhibitions. They are the future heroes of Indian cricket--the likes of MS Dhoni have done a world of good in boosting their morale.

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

RSS Feeds: Aakash Chopra

Keywords: Socio-cultural

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Suman on (February 4, 2013, 3:19 GMT)

Akash, that's a brilliant article. To be honest, I would definitely like to see someone like you in some capacity on the BCCI. A role like spotting new talent and nurturing them in the NCA comes to mind immediately.

Posted by NABIN KUMAR KHARA on (January 28, 2013, 9:14 GMT)

It's very good to see cricket reaching all parts of the country and players such as Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Praveen Kumar coming from these smaller cities. The BCCI is making efforts to take cricket in all corners of the country and improving the infrastructure.It's a challenge, not easy to bring more boys in cricket. But the development is in process and Indian cricket fraternity is encouraging boys to take cricket..........

Posted by Ujjwal Ingolikar on (January 27, 2013, 18:23 GMT)

Good to know some of the inside stories that goes on inside the dressing rooms. However, I feel the title for this could well have been The qualities of a small town Cricketer as it mostly explains the situations which these cricketers turn to their advantage, which a big city player might not. Although not shocked, but surprised to see that there are a few state players who carry ambitions of being a part of the Indian team one day, to turn down the advises of the senior players. This should in fact be an ideal opportunity, which might just help them to overcome their difficulties. Not sure is this is more due to their brazen attitude or if they have been advised by their respective coaches, not to seek too many advises. Was amused when Gambhir's coach recently said that he cannot see any flaws with Gambhir's technique, where as an ordinary cricket fan can point out at least two. Denying the shortcomings haven't helped anybody till now and would not help in future as well.

Posted by NABIN KUMAR KHARA on (January 27, 2013, 16:08 GMT)

In rural area have more quality player than urban area but real problem is they can't able to show their quality.

Posted by Mrudang T on (January 27, 2013, 8:46 GMT)

Dear Akash, I appreciate your observation and effort to throw light on this topic. But I believe talent is scattered everywhere, through out the India. So, forming an perception that small town cricketers are better learners and metro boys are not, is wrong. The way goldsmith can judge a real gold, senior cricketers like you should be able to find out talent everywhere irrespective of from where he is coming from.

Posted by Abhishek on (January 26, 2013, 20:51 GMT)

2011 squad consisted of 4 metro guys - sehwag,viru, sachin,aswin. rest everybody came from tier 2 and 3 which speaks volumes of the talent we have untapped in the great indian cricket market. Eg - Captain of Team India.

Posted by md on (January 26, 2013, 20:17 GMT)

@ Rishi . you took the words right out of my mouth !

Posted by waassim on (January 26, 2013, 18:28 GMT)

You took me and placed me back into memories. Don't think that I'm an old fellow! I'm not that old, just turning 24 after loosing hope with a cricketing career. When I was an aspiring cricketer these where all common for me/us. And being a small town lad my best wishes where to play for the state, unlike big town boys who only wish to play for India. Cricket has grown to infinite in our country but some states stays the same, not that there isn't enough potential but people who are chaired isn't good. It's Indian politics prevailing inside associations. Experiences had made me and many to regret or to change your club/ state/ even country; so that we could wear some colors for the passion of the game. But the latter part is just another thought for all of us. Not dragging too much... It was a great read indeed. :)

Posted by Ash Townsend on (January 26, 2013, 15:47 GMT)

Thank you Aakash for such an insightful and beautifully written piece, Comfort and distraction are indeed the enemies of personal growth.

Posted by hitesh on (January 26, 2013, 14:13 GMT)

Excellent Article!!! Its not only in our country, we can observe such kind of Injustice in other cricket playing countries also.If you are from a costly background you will definitely be in the eyes of the selector!!! That's the present scenario....

Comments have now been closed for this article


Aakash Chopra
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.

All articles by this writer