“First-class cricket after playing for India can be quite depressing. I realised that playing for India again was not going to happen. To keep playing in hope that one day I might get a chance was too frightening a prospect.”
That was Sanjay Manjrekar. It’s not the syrupy romantic prelude to the 80th edition of the Ranji Trophy season that starts on Sunday, an institution that is older than independent India itself, but it’s a good quote to hark back to in these times. Especially in these times. This current season throws up an air of cynical bemusement.
The national team is in Australia for a Test series that will be followed by World Cup and by IPL, that tournament of manufactured controversies. Where does this Ranji season fit in all this razzmatazz? What’s the immediate reward of performing in this season? Is it to get into the IPL auction, like the life of the Pathan brothers seems to have reduced to these days?
Just the other day, several cricketers, young and old, learnt that they are not good enough to be in the top-30 of the nation as of now. The young will fight in this Ranji season with the hope of breaking through one day. For many in their late 20s, that aspirational feeling will have already started to fade away and for those in the 30s, it would have evaporated completely. And for some like Wasim Jaffer, life beyond cricket isn’t a thought to be pondered upon yet. I remember the dread with which Sitanshu Kotak, the fevicol of domestic cricket, used to view retirement. “Kabhi kabhi sochtha hoon retirement ke baare mey toh daar lagta hai,” he had said. He finally retired last year, just a few days before Tendulkar did, and luckily, and unsurprisingly, he has become the coach of Saurashtra this year.
For him, and many others, life after cricket is cricket. If suddenly on some desultory afternoon this month, a window of couple of free hours opens up for you, please do go to a nearby stadium and have a peep. You might stumble on characters like Kotak.
Or you might see Sunil Joshi. From a left-arm spinner who threatened never to retire from playing for Karnataka, he has swiftly moved on to being a coach. This will be his first season of coaching Jammu & Kashmir and his first match starts today against Mumbai at the Wankhede stadium.
Imagine, a man from Karnataka who used to catch the 4 am train from the anonymous town of Gadag, travel 70 kms to Hubli to play three hours of cricket, catch the bus back to Gadag to get to his school, is now coaching men from region where sport can seem so trivial on occasions and so uplifting in other times.
If you are in Bangalore this week, you might run into Dinesh Kartik at the Chinnaswamy stadium and scratch your head in bewilderment. Far less talented men than him have played longer at the top which surely must mean something. Perhaps its ill-luck, perhaps it’s his temperament . perhaps it’s life.
At a stadium, somewhere in this country, you might bump into S Sharath, an 80’s player from Tamil Nadu who for couple of seasons stroked parochial pangs by coming near to the Indian team, and who these days, on most days, can be seen whistling and singing songs loudly as he goes about his duty as match referee. Then there is Pravin Amre, the man who lost his way after making a remarkable debut hundred against South Africa in South Africa against the pace of Allan Donald and who has now re-invented himself as a batting coach of some repute and is currently entrusted with the unenviable task of getting Mumbai, a pale shadow of the giant that it used to be, back into shape.
In Calcutta, you might have a quite chuckle about how the migrant culture is reflected in the composition of its state team. In Bhubaneswar, you will stumble into Shiv Sunder Das, who starting this season, will be the batting coach of Orissa. Once reckoned to be the next great Indian opening batsman, he struggled to cope with the fact that his glory days were behind him but has now managed to rebound. So, do get out there this season and drop in a mail to us. There could be lot of drudgery, a rare moment of inspiration, but rest assured there will always be human stories if you care to look.