When the compact former India opening batsman Aakash Chopra penned Beyond the Blues: A First-Class Season Like No Other”, he revealed that he had as much dexterity holding a pen as he had flourishing a willow. Now with “Out Of The Blue – Rajasthan’s Road To The Ranji Trophy”, this prolific run getter in the domestic circuit has proved that such a dexterity was not a mere flash in the pan. His second book provides an interesting and at times intriguing account of Rajasthan’s incredible clinching of the Ranji Trophy during the season of 2010-11. This story of rank and unheralded underdogs upsetting many an apple cart and bringing to naught many a well-crafted strategy of much bigger rivals during their course of creating history, undoubtedly warms the cockles of the reader’s heart.
In a queer sense of the way, this book might not have seen the light of the day, but for the supposed intransigence displayed by the Delhi & District Cricket Administration (“DDCA”) in unceremoniously dumping Aakash Chopra from the Delhi squad for the domestic one-day games. This episode, recounted in a calm and matter-of-fact manner in the very first chapter of the book, rankled this batsman so much that he vowed never to represent his State again. It was as though years of unflinching, uncomplaining and undeterred service rendered by a faithful servant of the game were discounted remorselessly in one fell swoop. The consequence of such an action was a move to the ‘surrogate state’ (as succinctly put by the author) of Rajasthan, and as the much used and abused cliché goes ‘the rest is history’.
The initial chapters of the book are dedicated to providing a bird’s eye view of the players constituting the Rajasthan Ranji Trophy squad. Resembling a motley crew, this aspiring bunch shares the enviable values of determination, devotion and dedication and is firmly bond by the glue of togetherness. Any young cricketer aspiring to make an indelible mark would do well not only to read these chapters but also ingrain in him/her the invaluable and precocious lessons contained therein. The trials and tribulations undergone by each of these cricketers not only showcase their mental resoluteness but also a never say die attitude. Some of the incidents narrated in a simplistic and unflattering manner are to say the least, extremely moving. Vineet Saxena continuing to play the game in order to tend to his family, not even taking adequate time to grieve over the untimely passing of initially his father, and later his two month old infant is an exemplary case in point. Pankaj Singh’s teething troubles and a torn allegiance between choosing between volleyball and cricket, Ashok Menaria’s tryst with fame and ignominy, Deepak Chahar’s resoluteness and his polychondritis afflicted father’s unconditional encouragement all serve to prove the point that it takes more than just talent for one to establish oneself firmly in this game. Also immensely and intensely inspiring is the story of the young Gajendra Singh, a left-arm spinner who scalped Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson (yes all five of them) in a practice match and then had his whole world shattered with the death of his father and mother. In spite of adversity staring him point blank at his face, this tough cricketer braved the odds to turn into a determined cricketer and a bowler of note.
The book also embeds within its pages a fair sprinkling of humour. The story of Robin Bist, the young batsman being woken up in the night from the cramped confines of a seat in a rickety bus, by the licking of a goat (with the man tending to it firmly perched on his cricket kit bag), a group of primates invading the playing arena when the author was at the crease during a game at Kota, are a few examples.
Aakash Chopra also highlights the wide chasm in personal comforts and luxuries that are the prerogative of an established national cricketer vis-a-vis a player struggling to make a mark in the domestic circuit and facing innumerable obstacles (both avoidable and inevitable), in a clear and uncomplicated fashion. The obduracy and indifference of various selection committees, a humble family background, a cruel jugglery between holding on to a not-so-well-paying job and playing the game one loves the most are some of the perils that an aspiring cricketer faces in his endeavor to earn a name by playing this great game.
The second part of the book provides a gripping narrative of every game played by Rajasthan, their promotion to the Elite League from the Plate Division. The thrills and spills are entertainingly narrated and performances of note highlighted. The reader is thus regaled with the account of Hyderabad collapsing for an unbelievable 21, with Deepak Chahar being the wrecker-in-chief with an unbelievable haul of 8 wickets, the sleepless nights spent by the author himself on course to compiling a marathon unbeaten triple ton against Maharashtra in a crucial game and the slaying of the Big Daddy or “Australia of Indian domestic cricket” (in the author’s own words), Mumbai in an enthralling game.
A few erudite and technical points of note with regard to the most prudent manner of batting depending upon the state and nature of the pitch also merit a mention. Such an analysis ensures that the reader appreciates the various nuances that are the subtle prerogative of this seemingly simple and uncomplicated game.
A point of crescendo is reached when the indomitable desert warrior s contrive an amazing fairy tale to beat the seemingly invincible Mumbai to secure a place in the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy. Facing a barrage of bouncers on and off the field, the tenacious skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar’s team ploughs on with their spirit undeterred and hope unyielding. As a visibly shattered Mumbai resign to their fate, a glorious hope is instilled in the Rajasthan players’ hearts with renewed vigour and realization dawns that the seemingly impossible dream is a mere two games away! As Tamil Nadu and Baroda bite the dust following the footsteps of their seven predecessors to have played Rajasthan, a rousing and endearing fairy tale is scripted and the record books rewritten!
In the overall context, this is the story of team work, self-belief and an unflinching attitude of camaraderie displayed by a bunch of talented and determined cricketers, willing themselves to go the distance and take the proverbial leap of faith. And as usual fortune never ever fails to favour the brave!
As I completed the final few chapters of this engrossing read, as coincidence would have it, Aakash Chopra raised his bat to a sprinkling of spectators by stroking a fluent century against Uttar Pradesh in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season. During the course of this elegant innings, he also achieved the enviable landmark of completing 10,000 first class runs. The first thought that entered my mind as I stood in the confines of my living room to generously applaud this feat was that of a young eight year old cricketer who shouldering a heavy cricket kit, hung on grimly to the ladder behind Bus No.442 heading towards Rajdhani College to practice a game of cricket. The boy has indeed grown into a multifaceted and mature man and a marvelous cricketer!
“Out of the Blue” – The colour of cricket, cause and courage!