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Aakash Chopra's "Beyond the Blues"

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“Beyond the Blues” has a rare quality when it comes to cricket books – soul. It helps that its author Aakash Chopra has had a taste of international cricket but not a big enough bite. He knows what the ultimate prize is, what it feels like to get it, but cannot find the way to get there anymore for reasons beyond his control and often comprehension. Most importantly, Chopra is a thinking person, with a mind of his own, keenly observant and equally expressive.

All these constitute the right set of circumstances for a thoughtful, heartfelt book which is as much about cricket as it is about being a “success” in these cynical, deceitful times. It is as much about the single cricket season Chopra writes about as a participant as it is about the pathetic apathy of the authorities that run the season. It is as much about the successes of his team in the Ranji Trophy season of 2007-2008 and Chopra’s significant contributions to those successes as it is about the failures and the fragility of talents trying to reach the next level by performing well here.

In his shoes, through his eyes, we experience a world where the relentless pressure of trying to play for the national team never entirely goes away. Even during the immersion of the self to the team’s cause of regional success, that aspiration is always lurking in the background, in the sidelines, ready to take the mind’s centre-stage at any time.

The book is entertaining – the descriptions of matches Chopra breezes through as he recounts the year’s cricketing journey are very readable and often extremely interesting, as are the many observations he makes about colleagues, oppositions, the media and the establishment. Descriptions of the pitiful hotels first-class cricketers often stay in (no doubt like most sports-people in India, much to its shame), the lack of thoughtfulness in training and dressing-room facilities, the small-mindedness in certain opposition teams, the slimy machinations within the media, the highly political cricket officials, the illogical match fixtures and travel plans, …and how all of this can play havoc with the sportsman whose only motivation is to show his wares on a bigger stage…all this makes the book richer in its scope.

To this reader at least, none of this came across as whining or complaining; on the contrary, the points made are very important and hopefully can be used by a well-meaning administrator as a checklist of things he can effect to genuinely make a difference. If such an animal actually exists.

But even more than that, it is the empathy Chopra manages to evoke through his diary observations that is its biggest achievement. The life of any sportsman is not enviable, especially if he has not made it at the highest level. Moreover, a batsman has to make just one solitary mistake to undo all the hard work he has done to reach that place, to earn the right to make that mistake. That all that insecurity can still lead to a relative calmness and clarity of thought like Chopra demonstrates is an achievement in itself.

The only disappointment is that Chopra does not touch upon his international career in flashback. He was unfairly treated by the selectors (and perhaps by his then captain - Ganguly) and dropped before getting a long-enough rope. The stereotyping of him as a slow player (which the media, with its love for superficial labels, promoted) is among Indian cricket’s greatest losses perhaps. Time will tell (and maybe this year’s IPL will demonstrate) if Chopra can surprise the selectors and perhaps make his way back to the Indian team (hopefully in the longer version).

But one thing is sure. Aakash Chopra almost certainly has a promising career in the media waiting for him. It is rare for sportsmen to be so articulate and expressive and the media house which nets him will be lucky for it. It won’t be the first time the less exciting players in the middle are the most expressive off it (Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar, for example) and here’s hoping Aakash Chopra never loses his candour. It is his best stroke.


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