Aakash Chopra and Virender Sehwag are two players who're contemplating moving out of Delhi
Step into the Ferozeshah Kotla this week and you will hear the story of how a desperate couple, at their wit's end over how to get their son into an age-group team, came up with a strategy that was as simple as it was smart.
Having heard about how a certain selector had made salacious suggestions to the mothers of several young aspirants, they took the man to dinner. Midway, the father got an urgent call and left, asking the lady to drop the selector home. Along the way, she and the selector made a private date and sure enough, soon after she obliged him, the boy made it to the age-group team.
Of course, as the selector eventually found out, the woman he had made (and kept) the date with was not the boy's mother; she had been paid to do a job. The money exchanged was apparently Rs 5,000 (the exact amount is unknown) which, if true, was far less than what some parents have allegedly paid to get their son to play for Delhi.
At one level, this story is funny. At another, it is a sad reflection on the state of cricketing affairs in India's capital, where, it seems, there are many ways to get oneself selected - heaps of money, top political or bureaucratic connections, a father or uncle in the DDCA brass, goon power. Perhaps even a despairing "mother".
Ironically, though, the topic of conversation among senior Delhi players at the current training camp at the Kotla was not entry but exit: Fed up with the mess in the DDCA, they are considering plans to leave the state and play as professionals elsewhere.
The topic of conversation among senior Delhi players at the current training camp at the Kotla was not entry but exit: Fed up with the mess in the DDCA, they are considering plans to leave the state and play as professionals elsewhere
While players do not obviously want to come on record with their plans, it is fairly common knowledge that Virender Sehwag has a standing offer from Haryana, that Aakash Chopra has been sounded out by a couple of teams, that Ashish Nehra might well choose between Maharashtra and Rajasthan and that Gautam Gambhir and Mithun Manhas are also thinking of shipping out to Rajasthan.
"It's a huge step, leaving home", said one player, "but if it doesn't feel like home any longer we might as well move to a state that wants us enough to pay for us and, more importantly, respects us as cricketers and supports us as its players."
Whether any or all of them will actually hold concrete discussions or make a move will be known only later this year but it is a chilling prospect for any organization. However, the DDCA, immersed in faction-fighting, may not care. They will ignore the iffy Ranji Trophy record and the shambolic state of affairs at the Kotla and instead point to the 10 India players, including nine Test cricketers, Delhi has produced since it last won the Trophy in 1991-92. That figure, equaled in Tests only by Mumbai, goes to show the talent that exists in the capital.
It is to Delhi cricket's credit that, though naturally reflecting the power-centric ethos of the national capital, it remained fairly sane till the mid-nineties. Despite a powerful administration, the players were a powerful lobby too and, while they bickered amongst themselves, they were a pretty united front when facing the world, not allowing any interference in selectorial policies.
However, the period after the 1996 World Cup saw a vicious fall-out between two of Delhi's senior-most players, with one joining hands with the administrators. That was perhaps the beginning of the end. The toehold allowed to non-cricketing officials, combined with Delhi's political culture and the hugely increased commercial stakes, resulted in an unseemly mess. The upshot: nobody in the DDCA has since given a damn.
And it shows. This season, the players had to spend about 15 hours travelling from Delhi to Rajkot - via Ahmedabad - by air and road two days before a crucial Ranji game. Why, they wondered, couldn't they be flown to Mumbai the night before and then taken on a direct flight to Rajkot , instead of the long road trip? That wasn't all: Match done, they had to endure a 22-hour journey to Vijayawada for the match against Andhra, a journey that included long hours in the Mumbai airport ahead of a connecting 3:15am flight to Hyderabad (obviously a cheaper option).
It wasn't just the travel: The hotel in Vijayawada, say the players, "was terrible" but as it had been paid for in advance (as is the norm), with no one checking the quality of services, they stayed put. In Rohtak, for their final game against Haryana, the team was spread over two hotels as there weren't enough free rooms in one. Obviously, no one had bothered with bookings in advance despite Ranji schedules being known months ahead.
And this is the Ranji Trophy side. Delve deeper and you will hear allegations of bribery and enticement, unhappy and sordid sagas that cannot be legally taken up because it is a world that protects its own. And because few want to come on record and say something that would almost certainly hinder their son/ brother/ nephew's quest for what, to most, is the ultimate prize - a Delhi Ranji cap.
Except, apparently, for those who already wear it and are sadly discovering it's just not worth the bother, or the heartbreak.
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Kadambari Murali is the Sports Editor of Hindustan Times in Delhi