(This week's Irani Trophy kicks off a new domestic season in India. Playing with the reigning Ranji champions Rajasthan, Aakash Chopra will share his experiences on the circuit in a series of posts, exclusively on Yahoo! Cricket.)
Spent eight long and tiring hours under the Jaipur sun fielding on the first day of the big-big Irani Trophy - this was also the first time I took the field this new cricket season. Irani is a crucial game and one is expected to feel a wee bit edgy. I've been here many a times in the past, 14 times to be precise (not necessarily playing the Irani trophy but preparing for the beginning of a new season), yet nothing seems to have changed.
The butterflies in the stomach paid their customary visit last night. They told me that I must refrain from sleeping too late - dinner must be of soup and salad, must not chatter much on the dinner table and focus on the game at hand. I am told "match anxiety" is good, even though I feel too much of it can bog you down. Over the years, I've realized that there's a fine line between getting worked up before an important match and instructing your mind to remain unperturbed. This line one learns to draw as he grows older and perhaps wiser. In cricket, like in life, growing old is mandatory, getting wiser optional.
Uncluttering The Mind
The evening before the match is usually the time when the mind is most vulnerable - it's like a waiting room full of people, some happily occupied by a nice book, and some whining for the wait to get over. It's the latter which are a bit of a menace, really. The mind too, has these unsolicited guests - negative thoughts - which turn up now and then making this state of limbo a bit more painful. Bright minds around tell you to not entertain them and in fact block them from entering your space. But anyone who's observed the working of the mind would tell you it's the toughest thing to do, if not entirely impossible. If the first prescription does not work, replace the negative thought with a positive one, they tell you - it is considered to be the second best way of dealing with them.
The best piece of wisdom I got on dealing with one's thoughts was while listening to a spiritual guru (cricket lessons from a spiritual guru must be a first). He said the moment we consciously deny a particular thought an entry, we start to fight it, and the more we fight it the stronger it becomes. The ideal way to deal with unwanted thoughts is to acknowledge their presence, and instead of dwelling more on the purpose of their visit and addressing it, one must get busy in doing other more productive things. Like reading a nice book. I'm in the middle of The Last Lecture. Fabulous. And believe it or not, the thought felt ignored and left without informing.
Another healthy way of keeping yourself occupied while preparing for a big match is to stay close to your peers. Instead of spending too much time on your own, it's better to stick together. You must spend some time to formulate your plans but too much of everything is bad. The best thing about a bunch of boys is that you're promised a lot of fun and frolic. And that's the best thing to help your mind stay uncluttered and positive for the match.
Dealing With Niggles
Food for thought: Ashok Menaria and Deepak Chahar picked up nasty injuries in the lead up to the Irani Trophy. Menaria got a fracture in a finger on his top hand and Chahar split a webbing on his left (non-bowling) hand. Now, both of them were running against time to get fit for the season opener and may have, at some stage, harboured the thoughts of not risking their injury further.
But I was pleasantly surprised to see their eagerness to get fit. Both continued to work extra hours in the gym (injuries ensured that they spent more time in the gym than the ground) to remain in good shape and eventually took the risk of playing without being a 100 per cent fit. Before you jump the gun and say "Well, that's how players learn to hide injuries," I must clarify that a niggle here, a niggle there are part of a professional cricketer's life. We've been hardwired to ignore such minor engineering snags. One should only be careful of not jeopardising his team's chances because of an injury, which both these youngsters have not. In fact, I was happy to see their keenness to bat & bowl in Irani Trophy. This trend must be encouraged - once they know that regardless of whatever they do in the T20 leagues, it's the performances in the Ranji/Duleep trophy that will get them into Team India, they will go that extra yard every time.
P.S: We wore black arm bands to condole Tiger Pataudi's death.