‘The Ranji Team for the domestic one-day games had been announced, and the morning’s newspapers were carrying the line-up. I was looking for the new names that had found their way into the team. But something was hugely awry. The players I’d known would make it to the team were all on the list. The ones that got no attention in all these days of practice had been taken off the list, no surprises there. But the reporter had bungled up—big time. He had to have; why else would my name not be on a list that had carried it for over a decade now (and leading the list, thanks to the double ‘a’ in Aakash). I went over the list again. This time I read out each name, but no, there was no ‘Aakash Chopra’… Not for a moment did I consider this preposterous possibility—until now, as I sat still, blank, forced to wrap my head around the idea.
…Of course, having my name struck off the list was a huge blow. But that is how it is. No matter how brave a face a player presents, there is nothing more hurtful than being booted out of the squad. And if the agony of sitting out isn’t enough, a brutally insensitive, hopelessly despotic and utterly self-absorbed system makes the ordeal worse. Did I not — after representing the association for over a decade-and-a-half, both at the state levels and nationally — deserve, at least, some sort of a warning call? I can see those officious faces snapping back: ‘But, we don’t have to inform you!’ By the book, perhaps, you owe me nothing, sir. But as professionals, as colleagues, could you not have put an arm around my shoulder, sit me down and tell me the worst? A sorry state of affairs, indeed: a player, who has dedicated his life, his game and his name to an association, is told that his services are no longer needed by the press.’
Please forgive me for including the excerpts from my book ‘Out of the Blue’ to start this article — it isn’t a plug for the book. The intention is to underline a dangerous trend that has been building up for quite a few years now — its recent kill being Ajit Agarkar. Of course, while he decided to show his resentment against it by abandoning the Ranji tour midway and speaking to the Media, I wrote a book. The point is not to launch a campaign, but to draw your attention to an utterly callous predicament that some veterans are subjected to. I must spell out here that the dispute is not if a seasoned campaigner deserves to be ‘dropped’ or not — that is absolutely fine and a prerogative of the team management. But, simply the manner in which the inevitable is conveyed.
Yes, there isn’t a protocol dictating that you must inform the player in advance, and hence what Wasim Jaffer n co. did was completely by the book. Yet, beyond the playing field, there exists an unwritten code of cricketing brotherhood — one wouldn’t occupy the first seat on the team bus, since that is what Sachin prefers. Or, perhaps stretch yourself for a few extra throw downs if the senior wants to bat a bit more, without a frown. No protocol demands a senior to mentor a junior through his rough patch, but they still do, all the time. There’s mutual respect for each other’s skills and achievements and we go that extra yard to accommodate each other’s feelings.
Shouldn’t Ajit then, a seasoned campaigner and a veteran, have been made to sit down and informed about the decision rather than forcing it down on him at the eleventh hour? That’s the least we, as teammates, colleagues can do, really. Anyway, if Agarkar wasn’t in Mumbai’s scheme of things (which can happen and is understandable), he shouldn’t have been made to tour with the team—while it’s mostly okay and acceptable to drop a player from the playing XI, it’s an insult to make an India player sit out for a first-class game—and definitely not a player who’s taken over 300 International wickets, like in Ajit Agarkar’s case.
While Ajit’s decision to catch the next flight back to Mumbai may have been a bit brash, one can hardly blame him since emotions usually take precedence over logic at such times. Zaheer too, may not have chosen the right platform to voice his opinion but to say that his assessment is way off the mark would be naïve—Sehwag did something similar with regards to Delhi a few years ago.
If Indian stars don’t play or show concern for their respective state’s cricket, we blame them for complete apathy. If they show concern and raise a stink, shouldn’t we be a bit more accommodating and restrain from dissecting their accusations? If we are really serious about improving the state of affairs, it won’t be a bad idea to drop the guard for once and bring these senior cricketers on board, for nobody knows the game and its ailments better than the cricketers.
Aakash's new book 'Out of the Blue' is out in the stands