Rediff Logo Cricket Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
October 9, 1997


Citibank : Car Loans Ad

Country cousins

Amrit Mathur

Another season has arrived, players are on the ground doing serious training, preparing for the matches that lie ahead. For youngsters, there are many things important in life but for a youngster who is also an aspiring cricketer caught in the mad rush of making it, there is no greater intoxicant than the season's curtain raiser. Success here transforms you entirely, rockets a person from abject anonymity to dazzling celebrity status within no time.

And everyone who holds a bat or ball out there wants a piece of that success.

This overnight change in fortunes does not happen to many -- but the very hope, the possibility, of hitting the headlines lures increasing numbers into the nets. No wonder the advent of every new season brings hope for players, past disappointments are forgotten, efforts renewed with fresh vigor.

Characteristically, in Delhi, the new season has commenced with the usual controversy about team selection. Picking players is always tricky because it involves opinions and judgement which someone or the other will disagree with, and it is impossible to please or convince everyone. But in the intensely intricate world of Delhi politics, this exercise is even more complex, there is considerable pressure from assorted big shots, proxy kings in the association reportedly have a say in the matter. Even the selection of the selectors is a major issue.

Delhi picked the right selectors (Vinay Lamba, Rakesh Shukla, Hari Gidwani) who together picked the right players in consultation with captain Ajay Sharma. Which in itself is a positive development because the normal practice is for the skipper to be handed a slip of paper with names on it. But this welcome openness displeased some powerful persons who, aggrieved over team composition, have now trained their guns on the selectors, even going to the extent of berating the chairman publicly.

Hopefully, these incidents will blow over, sanity will prevail, everyone will understand that selections depend on performance, and not on proximity to power. Besides Ranji selection, Delhi is also concerned about the neglect of its top players ---- despite reaching the Ranji final, only 3 players figure in the 36 selected for the Challenger series.

The most prominent one missing from the list is Ajay Sharma, who broke every conceivable batting record in Indian domestic cricket last year by smashing five successive hundreds. For his efforts, Ajay was rewarded with the captaincy of the India A side to Dacca and later sent to Bangalore as an India probable. But there, he hardly got a knock in the netsand returned with nothing more than an encouraging pat on the back from Madan Lal.

Only a little less tragic in the story of Atul Wassan, last year's highest wicket taker in India. If Kuruvilla can make it, as can Robin Singh at 34 when seriously contemplating retirement, so can Atul. He is fit, committed and what is quite significant is that he can bat effectively, unlike others in the lower order who are incapable of putting bat to ball.

It is nor just a question of what happens to Ajay or Wassan, the larger issue is about the value of Ranji Trophy competitions itself. If top performers and outstanding performances in the country's premier domestic tournament don't count, then something is seriously wrong.

Why allow a situation where the national championship is devalued to the extent it becomes meaningless?

The continued neglect of Delhi also points to the harsh reality that in cricket, ultimately, only power matters. If the DDCA had the clout and position befitting its status. As one of India's oldest associations, nobody would mess around with it -- but the DDCA through its own actions has lost preeminence in the board, it hardly counts for anything these days, it is very much a part of cricket's forgotten third world. Last few years zonal vice presidents have come from Kashmir and Himachal, neither of whom have teams fit to play first class cricket, whereas Delhi is shoved to languish on the periphery. If Delhi players are not getting the right breaks, it reflects Delhi's low position in the power structure. That is reality.

But Delhi is not a team of battle scarred veterans, the seniors are enthusiastic, keen to have another go. Raman Lamba (1000 runs last season) views cricket as a challenge, where each match is an exam and success a massive kick. It is increasingly difficult, training is killing, there are a hundred other things to do and which can be done to more profit, but the high of cricket is unbeatable, he says.

Wasan (300 first class wickets) too soldiers on, wanting to prove a point, to others and to himself, that he is good enough. Recently he competed in the Hong Kong sixes, a rich tournament with hefty appearance and prize money, with other top players.

Apart from the presence of these hardened pros, Delhi suddenly is flush with young, fit, energetic and talented youngsters. Talent usually arrives in cyclical phases, there are periods of plenty and others of paucity, and currently there seems to be a tremendous upsurge. Almost out of nowhere, after some years of drought, there is a horde of with-it kids pushing for places. Pankaj Joshi moved up the ladder from under 16 to Ranji last year, Ashu Dani made a huge hundred in the final, Akash Chopra and Mithun Minhas are immensely talented, both made big runs for India Under-19.

There are others too -- like Aashish Mehra, a sharp left arm medium pacer picked up from the obscurity of club cricket. Akash Malhotra is consistent in the middle order, spinner Nikhil Chopra and Rahul Sanghvi have progressed, and emerging quickie Robin Singh should also be playing a larger role soon.

Sport depends on confidence, there is a certain electricity about a successful team. When the Aussies walk out of the pavilion their attitude is that of champions, even if they happen to be following on 300 runs behind. Likewise, when Viv Richards strode to the crease, he conveyed an impression of supreme arrogance. Cocky about his talent, utterly dismissive about his opponents.

Delhi too, for some inexplicable reason, is on a high, they are determined and they seem to have the swagger, these days, that was once associated only with Bombay. But this feeling, however precious, isn't enough in itself and, to enhance performance, they have inducted trainer Tej Kishan Kaul to work on the boys. A manager is also in place, now.

While the Delhi boys were working out on recent afternoon, Madan Lal arrived and, seeing them bend their backs, remarked that domestic and international cricket were entirely different. Cricket in India is too soft, success comes too easily, the system allows mediocre talent to make it to the larger stage. And when they get there, they get found out, exposed in two minutes by pros on the Test circuit. Madan is an old Delhi hand, imported into Delhi from Punjab by Bishen Bedi, and given a free hand he'd love to work on youngsters, improve their fitness and fielding, make them flight. And if they don't respond, Madan at one time would inflict a solid whack on their respective posteriors.

May be this is a very simplistic, age old, man management theory which only extols the virtue of the stick and not the carrot. A modern day guru, steeped in the traditions of motivation, might be aghast at this crudity but, in North India, seldom do subtleties work, you need to be very loud, very strict, very tough. This works in society, it holds good for cricket as well.

Meanwhile, unmindful of these complexities, a strong Delhi team is poised to put its best padded foot forward in the season just begun.

Mail to Sports Editor