Imagine reading a 'Caution' sign board on a cricket ground saying - do not play fast bowlers in the nets, you could break either your fingers or toes. You'd be amused, right?
Well, even though the sign board is a bit of an exaggeration, the state of this pitch isn't - the ball either keeps alarmingly low or flies over the batsman's head regularly. The best bet to remain match fit is to have a curtailed net-session and that too only against the spinners.
On the morning of the match, the wicket-keeper pulls out his helmet from the first over (even for the fast bowlers) knowing well that a lot of balls would stay dangerously low and he may get hit because of bad bounce.
If there's too much dew and fog (which delays the removal of covers), one must resign to the fate of playing with a bar of soap because there are only four grounds-men at the venue and it's unrealistic to expect them to get the ground ready in time. Yes, they have a super-sopper but unfortunately they don't have the manpower to make it count on such mornings.
What's new - you'd ask, since most non-descript venues do wear a shabby look. Alas! These are the ground realities of Karnail Sigh Stadium - Railways' Ranji Trophy venue in Delhi, and not some club ground in a small town.
The conditions may have improved in the last few years, but they are really just a notch better than being totally inept. The nets (barring the 22 yards) for instance, look fine, while the size of the dressing room has increased three times-previously only the playing XI could keep their kit-bags in the dressing room and the extras were told not to carry anything except a small hand-bag.
And what does one say about the restrooms - yes, the taps aren't dry anymore! The dressing room may be cleaner and bigger, but the players still get basic plastic chairs to sit - very rough. Railways players have also recently been upgraded to a hotel from staying in a dormitory. This is the same hotel that most visiting teams refuse to stay in, point blankly.
Railways ought to move beyond the stone-age stage it seems stuck in.
A word on the snacks served at the end of day's play - pakoras and samosas with a cup of tea. C'mon any layman would know that deep-fried and calorie laden stuff are a complete no-no for sportsman. But, no not the officials!
Wondering why the facilities are so sub-standard when the BCCI gives crores every year-well, the Railways and the Services' Board don't get the annual allowance from the BCCI and hence have to spend from their own sports budgets.
Though they get some pocket-change to maintain the ground and allowance to conduct matches, it's not enough to upgrade the facilities substantially. The Indian Railways, by the way, is one of the largest networks in the world, besides also being the second largest commercial employer in the world. Should shelling out a few crores be that much of an issue?
Immense respect for players from Railways - what we couldn't bear for a few days has become a part of their fabric and yet, they've managed to put it behind and donned the national colors. Hats off!
The writer's second book 'Out of the Blue - Rajasthan's road to the Ranji trophy' was released last week.