“I want to reach a point where I am feeling the same when I score a century, and when I get out.” It’s a state of cricketing zen that few batsmen have attempted to achieve. It goes against the concept of batting. By defintion, the feeling of scoring runs should trump the feeling of getting out. More significantly, it’s because few batsmen would think it’s possible to attain this sense of idyll. But when Jalaj Saxena insists on being on this seemingly unrealistic quest, you want to believe him.
For after a match wherein he has scored a ton opening the innings and taken eight-wickets to fashion Kerala’s win, he insists that it’s not a mission he’s embarked upon just now, and it has nothing to do with the bitterness that had engulfed him only a few months ago after the umpteenth snub from the national selectors. This pursuit of mental equilibrium has after all been ingrained in him from a young age, long before he even took to cricket. It’s just that he’s taken it into his cricket. And the vehicle to do so is a form of yoga that has been practiced in the Saxena family for three generations now, starting with his grandfather.
“It’s a different kind of yoga. You don’t get to see it anywhere. It’s simple but it’s basic. My grandfather and father, both yoga masters, spent time understanding the real basis of yoga. What we get to see today thanks to all the marketing, is that the actual concept of yoga has been forgotten. The focus is more on advanced forms of yoga. But if you don’t learn the ABCD, you can’t just jump to its more complex forms,” he explains.
Yoga is such an integral part of the 31-year-old’s life that he never misses out on it even on match days, making time out for it both in the morning and the evening. The routine consists of a bunch of simple exercises, breathing and some more physical, along with a few meditation techniques. But Saxena reveals to have reached a point where he finds himself in a meditative state even while in the middle.
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“Whatever you’re doing, if you’re putting your mind into it, then that’s meditation. Studying is meditation, batting is meditation,” he says. And like most of his big scores, the 232-ball 133 at Thiruvananthapuram was a study of patience from the soft-spoken right-hander.
Saxena has been a successful yet unassuming performer in the domestic circuit for a while now. Yet when he lashed out at being perennially left out of the national reckoning only a few months ago. He’d just come off a season where he’d taken the most wickets (49) and was about to pick up the best domestic all-rounder award for the third time in four years. But he was not getting a call-up to the provisional Indian teams or even the zonal XI’s. “You are giving an award but there is no reward. If I don’t get an answer from the BCCI about why I haven’t got even an India A call in the last four years, then what’s the point of giving me awards for the last four years. This seems more like an insult. I’m depressed,” he’d said.
He did get the nod for the Indian Board President’s XI against the touring West Indians last month. But Saxena is aware that his heroics against Andhra will lead to uncomfortable and inevitable questions about still not being able to catch the selectors’ attention on a long-term basis. But he’s not prepared to play the victim-card or get “irritated” by those queries.
“I only think about what I can control, not things out of my control. I don’t think I’m a bechaara,” he says. Saxena does admit, however, to have felt disenchanted till last season.
“Most people take a lifetime to get over these regrets. You’ll hear them lament about mere saath kya hua even after retirement. But yoga has taught me early that it’s part of life. You need to be happy inside. And the happiness needs to be transmitted,” he says before adding, “I’m not saying I’ve reached that complete state of happiness yet. There are still moments when mein hadbadata hoon.”
Since his arrival in Kerala in the 2016-17 season, Saxena has transmitted a sense of belief in his adopted team’s camp. It’s seen them compete with stronger teams and helped them reach the quarterfinal last year. He’s averaged nearly 45 with the bat nabbing 72 wickets at less than 20 runs apiece. Season after season, he’s also managed to add new facets to his bowling though he believes his off-break is still his most potent wicket-taking option.
“There’s better hip rotation, and when as a spinner you know your stock delivery is getting you wickets, your confidence is really high,” he says.
Not yet at home
While he has made himself at home in the Kerala dressing-room, there are still some minor issues that he continues to dabble with three years on. “I still don’t understand a word of Malayalam and I have been trying to develop a taste for the food here. Being vegetarian, my options are limited, and most of the dishes are cooked in coconut oil and the dal often tastes like rasam. It will take time,” he quips.
Even as he tries to find that state of ultimate mental balance, Saxena’s resolve to play for India someday remains as steadfast as ever. It’s just that his yoga helps him approach it slightly differently. “Earlier my dream to play with India was surrounded by negative energy, but now I’ve converted into positive energy.”
Brief Scores: AP 254 & 115 in 51.3 overs (Jalaj Saxena 8 for 45) lost to Kerala 328 (Saxena 133) & 43/1. Points: Kerala: 6, Andhra: 0.