Determined Goud keeps the faith
Not many noticed, but when Yere Goud quietly - he wouldn't know any other way - walked out to field against Andhra last week, he became only the 16th player to have played 100 Ranji Trophy matches. It is a proud achievement, and also a damning one: because while you have to be good enough to be selected for your state side, you also have to miss out on the national selection to play so many matches.
A glance at the list tells a story. Out of the 16, 10 have never played for India, and two played fewer than 10 Tests. The 10 include the well-known Rajinder Goel, Amol Muzumdar, Amarjeet Kaypee and Kanwaljit Singh, and the less celebrated Tushar Arothe and Ravinder Chadha. Goud falls in the second category.
The achievement calls for possibly as much motivation, dedication and sacrifice as playing 100 Tests. Goud has been through all that. If a player is at the top of his game and his team is also doing well, he gets about seven to nine games a season. Then there is form, injury, personal reasons that can stand in his way. Along with Muzumdar, the 14 seasons Goud has taken are the least by anybody to reach 100 matches. But the most difficult part is to stay motivated despite knowing that he may never get to graduate to a higher level.
For Goud motivation hasn't been a problem. He turned 37 the day after completing his 100th match yet he is one of the fittest in the team, one of the first to train, and still works on his game - while batting in nets he has been using a custom-made inner glove, with a half-cut ball inside, that keeps his top hand prominent.
Goud the man is the same as Goud the batsman. He is quiet, unassuming and steady. While he is "definitely hurt" that he never played for India, he is not angry. Maybe he never gets angry, and it shows in his batting. He acknowledges that through most of his career the Indian middle order was off-limits, with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Azharuddin, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly already there. "But after performing so well for two years, I got only one chance," Goud says. "Perhaps they could have given me two or three opportunities to prove what I was. There were a lot of A tours where they could have given me the chance to establish myself."
The only chance he talks about is a game against England in Jaipur in 2001-02. It hadn't come easy either, as he mentions. In the season preceding his India A selection, he was the leading scorer in the Ranji Trophy, with 901 runs at 75.08.
Goud's only chance came on a pitch where even England XI could manage only 170. Goud scored 0 and 13. The irony was that Ashok Malhotra, who played seven Tests and 112 Ranji matches, was one of the selectors then.
People who know him are more disappointed at his not being given enough opportunities than he himself is. "I'll tell you very honestly, don't get me wrong, but after Rahul Dravid he was the steadiest and most solid player of his time," says Abhay Sharma, former team-mate and now coach. "And I am talking about Indian cricket, not only domestic cricket.
"He has got such a unique quality that once he has stayed there for 15-20 minutes, he has that calming effect on you. You know he is in there for a big one."
Goud is neither stylish nor eye-catching, he scores too slowly. But that works for his team, and he puts his team's interest before his. As against Uttar Pradesh on Monday, with his team struggling to avoid a follow-on and his running out of partners while nearing a century, it was easy to hit out. "I could take some amount of risk to score runs, but the team needed me to play more overs to avoid the follow-on," he says. He scored 78 not out, and Railways escaped the follow-on by three runs.
|After Rahul Dravid, he [Goud] was the steadiest and most solid player of his time. And I am talking about Indian cricket, not only domestic cricketAbhay Sharma, former team-mate and now coach|
"I want to perform well for whichever team I am playing. Whatever the situation. For me playing cricket itself is worth enjoying." That explains why motivation is not a problem for him. Even after that snub after the England A game, he had two good seasons, scoring 964 and 635. Then a lean patch followed, and an effort at rediscovering himself, which completed his journey. In the finale of the second of those lean seasons, he scored a century against Punjab to bring back the Ranji Trophy, an innings he considers among his favourites.
More difficult times would follow: his daughter was not well and he wanted to stay near Bangalore. So he moved to Karnataka, and Railways supported the move by granting him the no-objection certificate. His second season with Karnataka was ordinary, and it was believed his exit from the side was acrimonious.
As fate would have it, his first match back with Railways was against Karnataka. Abhay says: "I just told everybody in team meeting that let us play this match for Yere. 'Let's pull our socks while fielding and while chasing the runs also'. He was the star batsman in that match: he batted throughout the innings, and that was a perfect example of how to take the pressure."
Chasing 365, Railways were 110 for 4 when Goud entered. They were 389 when Goud exited - undefeated on 122 off 351 delivers scored over seven-and-a-half hours. On reaching his century he gestured towards the cabins of the administrators at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. He clarifies there was no animosity when he left Karnataka. "There was no such thing," he says. "I just waved towards my friend who was sitting below the cabin."
Back with Railways, he is a peaceful man. He has scored 228 runs at 57, and many of those have come in crucial situations. He is 127 short of reaching 6000 Ranji runs. He has played a crucial part in two Ranji triumphs within four years. But there is one feather missing: the India cap. He has not completely given up yet. "To be honest, I still think of playing for the country. That is the motivation, and I am fit."
It is easy to scoff at a 37-year-old dreaming of a Test debut. It's foolish as well. Because that motivation keeps such players - the fabric of Indian domestic cricket - going. It's their wickets, after all, and the challenge that they pose, that is cherished by international bowlers who come back to Ranji.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo