Going Places : India’s Small-Town Cricket Heroes, by K.R. Guruprasad.
I was at Landmark, browsing books, hoping to buy some books that would help me spend some alone-time in this new place I’ve now moved into, far from home. Lying in a small heap in “Sports Section”, was this book, the photograph on its cover, gripping my attention. Set my hands on it, read the title, bought it.
We, in India, love to play cricket. Anywhere. I’ve played cricket inside my house, on the staircase of my apartment, in the garage, between cars, in my classroom, in school corridors, on the streets, in football grounds, basketball courts, ofcourse in cricket grounds, and have also approved of a couple of bathrooms being large enough to play the game; and also told my colleague in office that the aisle between our cubicles seem to beg us to play cricket. This book tells us how kids who once played like this in small towns, with tennis balls, made it big. It is a fairy tale story for some, bed of thorn for some others.
Author, K.R. Guruprasad, from Bellary, tells us how he enjoyed the game as a kid, when the local cricket club had the best ever players one can see, and how it seemed pointless at that point for anyone playing the game to represent the country, as there cannot be any more pride than playing for the local club you grew up watching. Things changed with television age. And the world cup victory. He tells us how people could’ve watched the ’83 WC if they went to big cities, like Madras. But the rest of India had to manage with radio, which would at that age allot a minimal time to cricket inbetween its regular programs.
How the author takes us from this introduction to setting before us eleven players from the rural pockets of India who have made a name for themselves at the international stage (or about to…) is magical. He travels from the urban metros to villages, from cricket academies in Bangalore, to sports hostels in Lucknow. He meets people who’ve helped cut to shape the diamonds we celebrate today as crowns of Indian cricket.
The XI listed in the book – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Santhakumaran Sreesanth, Virender Sehwag, Ashok Dinda, Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina, R. Vinay Kumar, Iqbal Abdullah, Praveen Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh.
The books tells us all the hardship that cricket dreamers in the rural India have to face. The lack of facilities, lesser access to media to pronounce their performances to a larger audience, and lack of funds. What keeps them together, however, is their hard work. Sheer hard work. And some wonderful gem of people who actually took them to where they now are.
The books indirectly lists four factors have featured as major reasons to why we now see more cricketers from rural pockets play for Team India –
1. The New Ranji Trophy Format
Until the 2001/02 season, Ranji Trophy was zonal. But for the top bracket, rest of the teams would hardly get to play more than 3 or 4 games. It was harder to spot talent. Teams with better facilities would survive most rounds. Lesser teams would be eliminated without even facing big names, and hence always lying behind on quality. Delhi, Bengal, TN, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Karnataka would get to play more and perform more, as compared to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Saurashtra or Kerala. Selectors saw the same faces more regularly, and cricketers from select regions were more likely to make it to the Indian team.
From 2002/03 season on, zonal system was abolished and Elite + Plate league was announced. Every team would play a league, and play as many games as any other team in their league, and play the big names. Competitiveness improved. The author gives UP as an example. UP favoured from the format change, then had a Ranji victory, then had Kaif, and that was a spring board for many more to follow – Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar. Well, we’ve now even had a Plate League team win the Ranji Trophy.
2. The IPL
The IPL was an instant hunt for talent across all teams in the country, and some new names propped up on the screen, rubbing shoulders with big names. The new kids from the domestic circuits in the rural India now shared the glamour worn by international stars. They played with them, against them, and in the process learnt new art, made friends to fall back on for advice etc. What IPL gave them more than anything, was money, money to survive the toughness of rural reality. In the book, you will find examples to how the breakthrough of IPL has helped many families break even with the world and start living in peace.
3. Family, mentors and friends
Cricket was not a serious option in rural India, not sure if it is today either. Most families aren’t enthusiastic about investing money in their child’s cricket. But, there are some who can see that their kid has it in him to make it to the big level. If you read between the lines, you would actually realise that the “heroes” mentioned in the tagline for the title of this book is actually meant for the mentors. Amazing examples of mentors fill the pages of the book, who, through their whole hearted love for the game and the wards, has put new names on the Indian cricket team. Even today, amidst all the shine and gloss that pampers the cricketers, first thing they do once back home is visit their mentors, spend quality time with friends and enjoy the comfort of home. For the rural people, these kids have always been their heroes, since the day the kid broke their window pane 15 years ago. In urban, there are so many things on your mind, you never know if your neighbour is a hero until he makes an appearance on TV.
4. HARD WORK
The author says how the kids in rural region seemed to be extra hard-working. Yes, one has to work hard to survive in the game, but the ones from rural region have to put in extra effort to match players from urban India. The lack of state-of-art facilities, coaches and technology kept their progress rate slower than compatriots. But some broke through. Again, credits to mentors, first for spotting them, and then persisting with them alll through the good, bad and ugly stages of their life before the glory days started. Some coaches still offer tutorials free of cost, some recruit their wards from places 1000 miles away from home, and feed them in their home like their own sons. Such is the hard work and dedication from the mentors, you can only wonder how much they would extract off their wards.
The author tells us how these stars from rural regions have had to battle myriad difficulties in their life to reach the top. It was no rose bed. One was 45 days from leaving to Africa to earn a living and survive his family. One had given up on cricket and thought of becoming a truck driver in Canada. How right people find themselves in the right time in these people’s lives is explained beautifully. Giving up was something was an attitude that had to be removed from their minds, and was done well too.
Some anecdotes made me smile, some made me weep. If one has to learn something from this book, it is that nothing is reserved to the big cities. If you want something, your determination will take you to the top.
Excellent work by K.R. Guruprasad for having put together all this in one book, having traveled from hot and dry places to wet and sludgy streets, just to meet the people who would best paint the portrait of these cricketers we have now come to adore.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves Indian cricket.
“Going Places : India’s Small-Town Cricket Heroes”, by K.R. Guruprasad.
(photo credit : Penguin Books)