For a few weeks I have working furiously on a personal deadline of writing a book before Christmas rolled around. Now that the deadline has been done and dusted with I can get back to more important things like living my life again. (Some will snicker that the deadline was less about Christmas and more about Boxing Day. Oh, how well they know me!).
Anyway, thinking about books took me back a couple of years to a book that I had read, liked, promised to review but had never gotten around to doing. So, here it is - my review of Beyond the Blues by Aakash Chopra. Better late than never.
From September 9th, 2007 to June 5th 2008, Aakash Chopra kept notes of his actions and thoughts in the form of a diary. Eventually, to the happiness of many of his fans, including me, he went ahead and published them.
The book is filled with an insider's perspective of Indian cricket, from the behind-the-scenes shenanigans in the backrooms of selectorial meetings to the on-field skullduggery that the viewer is unable to pick up on from 90 (or in these days 60) yards away.
It is a compelling book, written from the heart. The best way to appreciate the book is to read it in its entirety. Here are some of the nuggets that caught my fancy and should serve to whet your appetite for when you read the book.
On Sachin Tendulkar (p48):
Aakash Chopra had a very pivotal hand in Sachin's classic exercise in self-denial, that face-saving 241* at Sydney in Steve Waugh's final Test in 2004. In fact, it is safe to say, that Aakash saved SRT's life that day. He did something that made him "... one of the few people in the world who has given something to the Little Master without taking anything material from him in return."
On a fellow team-mate (p60):
He has definitely mastered the way to score at this level consistently and I wouldn't be surprised if, one day, if he plays enough domestic cricket (given his India commitments), he goes on to break every batting record on the domestic circuit.
On not making it to the 2007-08 tour of Australia (p83):
Aakash was the leading run-scorer in the 2007-08 season and was among the 24 probables named for the tour of Australia. On the eve of the announcement of the team, Gambhir was ruled out with a shoulder injury. Shockingly Virender Sehwag, who was not part of the 24 probables, was named in the team and not Chopra. I am not disappointed, I am shattered. The only person who picks up the phone when Chopra calls around is Rahul Dravid. He also leaves a lot of messages asking for an explanation. The only person who returns his call is Anil Kumble. Why doesn't the identity of the two gentlemen surprise me?
(Chopra has never since been selected for the Indian team, in spite of many other occasions when he might have been. Case in point: this one time when, well, read for yourself).
On batting :
(p116)...batting is a one-ball game. You can have the best batsman in the world and he can be dismissed off the first ball...
(p204) Even the best players in the world don't play all the shots in the book and usually bank on only a couple of shots for big runs and keep themselves busy in between.
On Praveen Kumar (p150):
Praveen ... is a wily customer and moves the ball both in the air and off the surface more than anyone else in domestic cricket. He bowls from close to the stumps and still manages to swing the ball in. To bowl an in-swinger, most bowlers have to go to the edge of the crease to ensure that the ball does not slide down the leg side. He not only gets his in-swingers consistently without moving to the edge of the crease but also has impeccable accuracy. He doesn't get hit for a single four on the leg side through his twenty-one over spell.
(Oh dear! Why do I think we may miss Praveen Kumar very badly over the next couple of months?)
On Yashpal Singh (p 164):
This is his only chance. He must deliver and deliver big time. He scored over 800 runs in the previous season and was the second-highest run-getter but couldn't find a place on an A-team or even for the Challengers. He almost left the BCCI fold just ahead of this (2007) season to join the ICL but his employers (Indian Navy) didn't let him go and he stuck around for yet another season.
Joining the ICL would have been a good decision for him. He is working for the navy at a clerical post with no major promotion in sight for years to come, regardless of on-field performances. His father passed away a few years ago and he is the sole bread-winner in a family of three: his mother, his wife and himself. (...) He needed a job to keep his family going and only the Services were offering anything at that time to a young and nearly unknown guy of nineteen. He joined immediately....(T)he job gave him security and bore the expenses for his father's treatment before he passed away, but it also deprived him of a lot things. Playing for a low-ranked team means that he seldom gets noticed despite scoring heavily and this eventually affects his chances of playing for the country. (...) When I think about these players, I feel fortunate and and don't forget to count my blessings.
(Who is Yashpal Singh, you may be asking? And you should be, especially since even Arjun Yadav has played for India A, much to my chagrin. Grrrrr....)
I will let you read the book and discover other nuggets for yourself. It is definitely one of the better sports-related books that I have ever read.
P.S. Aakash Chopra recently released a second book - Out of the Blue and it is on my reading list. Hopefully, it wont take be 3 years to finish reviewing that one.