Monday, May 23, 2011

Going Places, India's Small town Cricket heroes - K.R. Guruprasad

This is a slim easily readable book (Penguin, 166 p, Rs.199) that presents some great insights into how the small town cricketers made it big in India. K.R. Guruprasad, the 34 year old author, is a sports journalist with DNA and he knows his cricket well enough to write interestingly about the journeys made by players from small towns in India where there were no role models, no facilities and no money to the glitz and glamour, fame and money of playing 'big cricket' in India.
Going Places India's Small-Town Cricket Heroes

One of the most fascinating accounts in the book is that of Guruprasad's childhood itself which he spent in Bellary. His early cricketing heroes in Bellary, colony cricket, school cricket, television, Indian cricketers, his cricketing ambitions and how he finally decided to pursue a professional career made a compelling read and was as good as all the other stories. I am sure any kid from small towns would identify with Guruprasad's story and I do wish he had written more of his cricketing stories. Maybe later.

But the stories of eleven small town cricketers - Dhoni (Ranchi), Harbhajan (Jalandhar), Sehwag (Najafgarh), Sresaanth (Kakur), Raina (Murad Nagar), Praveen Kumar (Meerut), Munaf Patel (Ikhara), Vinay Kumar (Davanagere),  Ravindra Jadeja (Jamnagar), Ashok Dinda (Naichanpur) and Iqbal Abdullah (Azamgarh) - make fascinating reading. The sacrifices, the desire, the hardships, the dilemmas are story-book stuff and highly inspirational. Every one of them comes from a middle to lower middle class background where the choice between playing cricket versus a regular job was always going to be tough. Small time jobs, general store owners, small businesses that lost money, autorickshaw drivers - their families had little or no means to buy cricket kits or even to spend time on wasteful activities. But somehow the families did support them and their internal dramas are as good a family drama as any. Parents who would not want them to play, siblings or most often the other parent supporting them to give it their all, siblings and friends and relatives taking over their burden, these stories of family support and sacrifice show how much the family counts. 

And that was not all. In today's cynical world, most of these cricketers were lucky to have their talent spotted by committed coaches who gave them all their time, financial and emotional help. Some coaches even put up their wards at their homes, went out of their way to recommend them, to have selectors look at them, most gave them free coaching. This is as much the story of these wonderful coaches who believed in the Indian tradition of guru-shishya as much as it is about the sacrifices made by the families and of course, the hardwork put in by the cricketers themselves. One of the best things about North Indian wards I have seen is the way they always touch the feet of their coach when they come in, stand or sit at his feet while the coach talks. I have seen several of them do it with Mr. Rehmat Baig and I am sure these cricketers do it when they meet their old coaches. There is the story of Ravindra Jadeja's coach who walked to a temple to pray for his success, just as there are stories of coaches like Vinay Kumar's, Sehwag's, of Naushad Khan from Azamgarh, or anyone else for that matter, who would out everything aside and give them practice and advise - and a clip on the ear when they went wrong.

Sreesanth's 16 km bicycle journeys to KSCA, Dhoni's phenomenal rise in Ranchi, Raina's days at a sports hostel in his early days, Jadeja's and Sehwag's commitment to improve, Harbhajan's hardwork - so many stories that now make sense. Now I understand how these cricketers are so resilient today, how they can stand up to the best, how their hunger is more than anyone else's that they can win the World Cup under so much pressure, that they play with the same focus after so long and still have the hunger to keep at it despite all that they have achieved. If we want champions, we need more hunger and this hunger is most evident in small towns in India which gives them all the opportunity to reach for the stars through hardwork, resilience and desire. The cars (I was shocked to know that Sreesanth has four cars that include two BMWs), parties, high life, glamour of mingling with the high and mighty of the czars of industry and film world, and they are still rooted because they have seen the worst, the lows.

One interesting factor is that of the sports colleges in Lucknow and Kanpur. It was certainly a factor in the development of cricketers from UP, whatever some cynics had to say. It also goes to underline the fact that if someone loves doing something badly and if they are given half a chance, they will go all the way and conquer the world. Well done Guruprasad, your effort puts in perspective the returns of success for these small town boys just as much as the hardwork, sacrifices and frustrations they had to overcome before getting there! Definitely worth a read, its gripping, quick and highly relatable and also very inspiring! And yes, a fine cover too - I really liked it. Good pic by Herve Blandin and good design by Saurav Das.

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