An amazing journey

It is a good wager that before you laid your hands on this magazine, you will have seen an Indian Premier League team like the Delhi Daredevils or the Mumbai Indians on this Air India flight. And it is possible that you would have noticed that the team, drawing cricketers from different parts of the world, is on an amazing journey together.

It was one such flight that got Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene and England’s batting ace Kevin Pietersen together from Colombo to Delhi. Barely a few days after being on the opposite sides of an intense Test match in Colombo, they forged a winning partnership for Delhi Daredevils “It was just great to bat with Mahela and get a win under the belt,” Pietersen said after helping the team beat two-time champion Chennai Super Kings.

For long, many have trained the spotlight on the glitz and glamour around IPL games, completely overlooking the fact that at the end of the day, all cricket – even a Twenty20 match – is a contest between bat and ball. This year, the intensity of the contests has been high, with the Delhi Daredevils, Rajasthan Royals and Pune Warriors India hitting the ground running.

I am amazed how the cynics dismiss this tournament as tamasha. Clearly, they have no idea how well the teams prepare for a game. Besides training sessions at the net, the cricketers work hard off the field to so that they are ready for battle. There are sessions in the gym, with yoga trainers, with Performance Analysts and with motivational experts. I do not think that the quality of preparation is any less than it would be for a one-day game or a Test match. I do not believe that most of our Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy teams prepare as hard.

There is just one intent – do well for the team and ensure that the team wins. If such an attitude can be embraced by all teams, big and small, cricket will surely get to be better at all levels. If that is one thing that is becoming increasingly clear, another big facet of IPL is that this is an amazing melting pot of cultures where notes are exchanged and cricketers can evolve.

In the first two dozen games, there were 10 totals in excess of 180 runs. Rajasthan Royals’ opener Ajinkya Rahane, who hit the first century in IPL 2012, and Delhi Daredevils’ left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem are among the Indian youngsters who have used the grand stage to showcase their intent of going a long way on the Indian cricket firmament.

They have rubbed shoulders with some amazing and experienced cricketers and coaches, sifted information that works for them to be able to make a strong impact. And when you see a close-up of their eyes, you will see fire in them. It is this quality that has set them off on a journey that can be wonderful and fulfilling.

Sometime in April, stand-up cricket comedian Vikram Sathaye wanted to know if cricketers from towns and cities other than Metros had the same opportunity to interact with the overseas cricketers. Saurashtra’s Kuldeep Raval explained candidly how he struck a friendship with Aaron Finch and learns from the explosive Australian opening batsman.

It is not as if it is only the Indian cricketers who benefit from such inputs as they get from the experienced players. Pietersen – who scored an unbeaten hundred at the Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi against Deccan Chargers – says the sojourn in IPL is important not just because he enjoys the atmosphere in the tournament but also because he thinks it’ll help his cricket as well, especially when England plays four Tests and seven one-day internationals later this year.

At the Delhi Daredevils net, I have seen New Zealand’s rising star Doug Bracewell seek South African ace Morne Morkel out to discuss the nuances of pace bowling in different conditions. I have also seen South African all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe share ideas with fellow left-arm spinner Nadeem. And, I have seen the affable Jayawardene’s willingness to spread wisdom. I have also watched New Zealand’s Assistant Coach Trent Woodhill and South African Fitness & Strength Conditioner Rob Walters work hard on the Delhi Daredevils fielding. Such stories abound in the other squads too.

There is a lesson to learn from these cricketers. Blessed with an acute awareness that not everyone gets to play all games, they keep training hard to ensure that they are not rusty when given the chance to play a game. They would not like to just make an appearance but to make their presence felt. And that is what makes this journey so wonderful.

This piece first appeared in Air India Magazine, May 2012