Tag Archives: Ravindra Jadeja

Going Places. A book-review.

Going Places : India’s Small-Town Cricket Heroes, by K.R. Guruprasad.

From gully cricket to Team India

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.
Penguin Books.
Rs. 199/-

(photo credit : Penguin Books)

– Bagrat

Advertisements

Has the IPL helped nurture local talent?

At a lunch that I went to Sunday afternoon, I was hauled up by a frequent visitor to i3j3Cricket and was asked to comment on why the IPL could not be thrown wide open to have teams full of international players (if need be)!

To have a lower bound on the number of local players in each squad (or an upper bound on the number of international players in each team) was seen by this gentleman as either a “needless constriction” or “protectionism” or yet another example of India wanting to have it both ways — ‘while India is happy to be the “Back Office to the World” she can’t yet throw her doors wide open to and embrace capitalism’ was the theory that was expounded.

Or at least, that was how I understood the theory that was being postulated.

Each squad in the IPL has to have at least four under-19 players and a (playing) team can’t have more than 4 international players.

I pointed out to the gentleman that this IPL rule was recently lauded by Lawrence Booth in an article in CricInfo.

There is nothing inherently wrong with letting market forces completely dictate the composition of a squad or indeed, a team that takes the park. If that indeed does happen, it would be a first in the world, leave alone India! And maybe that experiment is not too far off.

After all, to the credit of the IPL, the IPL has almost seen more experiments trialled out in the last two years than cricket has seen in the last few decades! Some of these — like (a) the establishment of a transfer market, (b) auctioning of players, (c) establishment of franchises, (d) having a salary cap, etc — have, in my view, been good, while some — like the mid-innings “strategy break” — have been poorly thought through.

However, I must say that I am not a fan of the ‘throw the doors wide open and let market forces dictate squad/team composition’ strategy, even if there is a ‘salary cap’.

Firstly, ‘protectionism’ and ‘capitalism’ have conveniently co-existed even in America, a land that has embraced ‘capitalism’ more willingly than any other. When there are compelling reasons for these two ways of life to co-exist, they do! So, there is no reason for a call for an “either have it all-black or all-white policy or it is a nonsense” judgement when it comes the the IPL. Not everything in life needs to be distinctly and strictly binary for it to be granted legitimacy! Shades of grey have always existed.

Second, I said to this gentleman that, with a strong focus on identifying, nurturing and grooming local talent, the IPL has actually managed to unearth and identify (in some cases) and nurture or resurrect (in others) local talent.

I was challenged to name names of talent that IPL-1 had unearthed. I could cite the names of Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh, but then they wouldn’t be ‘local’.

So here are some names of players whose careers, in my view, IPL-1 assisted through the local-talent-lower-bound principle:

Amit Mishra: His was a career that was going no where. He was always a good bowler. But he had been shunned even by Delhi, his local team. He continued playing in the Ranji Trophy. But his real big break came through IPL-1. The moment he took a hat-trick in IPL-1 was when the selectors sat up and took notice. He was immediately drafted into the India-A side to play Australia. He performed well and was immediately picked for India. He may have made it to the India team. But I have no doubt that IPL-1 and its focus on having local talent helped his career immensely.

Yusuf Pathan: He was always seen as a player who had heaps of talent. Indeed, he played in the T20 World Championship finals too. If I remember right that was the only game he played in the T20 World Championship. However, it was in IPL-1 that he really shone bright. He played many a breathtaking innings for Rajasthan Royals in IPL-1 and this catapulted him into national team selection. Again, I have no doubt that the opportunity he got to rub shoulders with players in the big league was what prompted his growth as a player.

Ravindra Jadeja: Shane Warne called him the “Rock Star” in IPL-1. He may have been a little-known and perhaps even ‘forgotten’ player in the domestic circuit. After all, there are many players like him in the past that died slow and painful deaths in the local circuit. Noel David and Vihay Bharadwaj are two names that spring to mind immediately! They are Ravindra-Jadeja-type players who toiled in the domestic circuit without getting enough opportunities to either promote their talent or shine or polish their talent on a big stage. Although I agree that Jadeja was starting off a much better base, he was helped by the IPL-1 opportunities he had and as an under-19 player, he just had to be included. No doubt he was helped by the huge raps he received from Shane Warne. He displayed his wares and got into the India team.

L. Balaji: I think that the local-inclusion-lower-bound rule definitely helped L. Balaji’s career. To his credit, he used his inclusion in the Chennai team to show that he still had it in him, despite the fact that his pace had slowed down several notches post his injury-scares. He put in a good showing in the IPL and that contributed to his resurrection to the India Test side. He is also in the list of probables for the India T20 team.

Dhawal Kulkarni: He was another bowler that benefited immensely from the local-talent rule. He played many a game for Mumbai in IPL-1 and impressed one and all with his pace and abilities. Soon thereafter, he was selected to tour NZ with Team India. He did not get a game in NZ, but one has to assume that the tour helped him hone his skills.

Manpreet Gony: Another Chennai player who was catapulted to national reckoning was Manpreet Gony. If I am not mistaken, he was even discarded by his local state, but Chennai picked him up and gave him opportunities to shine. He did and, as a result, was thrown into national reckoning. He was in several ODI teams subsequent to IPL-1.

Other players that benefited from the local-player-lower-bound rule in IPL-1 are possibly Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda, Karan Goel, Venugopal Rao, Yo Mahesh, Pradeep Sangwan, Yogesh Takawale, Pinal Shah and Naman Ojha.

Please feel free to add to this list of players whose careers the IPL-1 had assisted/helped/accelerated.

Several of the above players are good and it is possible that several of them would have made it off their own bat over time. It is also possible that the local-talent-lower-bound would not have been necessary for several of these players to gain recognition and eventual selection in the India team.

They could have made it after ‘slogging it out on the domestic circuit’ and had time taken her natural course. However, I have little doubt that IPL-1 catapulted them into national reckoning and national consciousness faster and in a much more compelling manner.

I am, therefore, an unabashed fan of the local-talent-lower-bound principle.

Sometimes it is not totally wrong to mix a doze of ‘protectionism’ with brazen ‘capitalism’. Morever, in my view, having a few protectionist measures in the IPL is not totally at odds with India’s aspirations and desires.

Finally, what was the first thing that the major pillars of capitalism did when the current global financial crisis hit? They put their bowls out for a protectionist hand out! But that’s another essay for another day!

— Mohan

India challenge ODI #1 spot…

Today’s ODI games between Sri Lanka & India and Australia & New Zealand have become a land-grab for the top spot on the ICC ODI table.

As a result of the recent brilliance of South Africa in both Tests and ODIs (combined with an unusually long-spell of lackadaisical play by the Australians) the top spots on the ICC rankings table in both Tests and ODIs represents a tightly bunched group.

The ICC ODI Rankings Table has South Africa on 125 points, India on 122, Australia 3rd on 121 and New Zealand 4th on 117.

It has been a while since the rankings table was this closely grouped. I have a feeling that things are going to remain this way for a while now — perhaps even till the World Cup in 2011. There is little that separates these top-4 teams. And this can only be good for the ODI form of cricket — a form that, I feel, needs a kick in the backside to ward off the threat from the more exciting Twenty20 format — especially with the excitement that is being generated by the IPL these days.

Given the closely packed nature of the rankings table, the two ODI games that are being played today take on a special significance. If India and New Zealand win, it would be the first time since rankings commenced that India will occupy the top spot on the table. I suspect that this occupation will be short-lived. But if India does make it there, it will be a huge credit to M. S. Dhoni (captain) and Gary Kirsten (coach).

India, however, appears still intent on blooding some of its bench-players. With a view to the longer-term, it is imperative that India has players like Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma and L. Balaji match-hardened and sharp.

As I said earlier, it is likely that the next year or so will see the ODI rankings move and slip a fair bit between these top four teams. So a capture of the top spot for a few days or even a few weeks will be neither here nor there. What should be more important for the India fan is how Team India shapes up towards the 2011 World Cup!

After the comprehensive recent victory against Sri Lanka in the 4th ODI even with a team that did not include Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan — its talismen in batting and bowling respectively — it is likely that Team India will continue with its strategy of resting one or two key players for todays’ last game of the series.

It appears that the team is not too keen to rest more than 2 “key players” for each match. For the previous match, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan earned a rest. For this 5th ODI, it appears that Yusuf Pathan and Pragyan Ojha are the ones that got a tap on the shoulder.

With that in mind, it is likely that Team India for the 5th ODI against Sri Lanka will be:
Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Ishant Sharma.

It would be great for Jadeja and Balaji to get a game. I really like the look of Jadeja. He followed up a good IPL outing with a strong domestic season and has continued to impress everyone. He gets an opportunity to strut his stuff on the big stage now. After a few years in the wilderness, Balaji get an opportunity to once again walk on the big stage. His career too received a boost in the IPL theatre. He too followed it up with a strong domestic season and gets a well-deserved call to the India team.

Despite picking a few wickets, Irfan Pathan did have a bad game in the 4th ODI and will be keen to put that behind him. Sanath Jayasuriya took to him like a duck would to water. Although it may be tempting to drop him for Yusuf Pathan in the above team list, I think it would be good for Irfan Pathan to get another match to get his game back in shape.

— Mohan