By venturing into writing, former India opener Aakash Chopra has invited critical scrutiny — like taking first strike on a green-top in an away game.
But Chopra comes off well, just as he did during the 2004 tour to Australia when his compact technique blunted a determined attack led by Brett Lee. It’s probably Chopra’s candour that sets apart Beyond the Blues from a slew of similar volumes by Indian cricketers.
Chopra’s book has the usual gripes about umpiring decisions, cramped buses, dingy hotels and unfair selectors; the sections on IPL icons, post-match soirees and ball tampering too are along expected lines.
What’s refreshing is Chopra’s description of the loneliness of a domestic Indian cricketer: “Nothing gives you more pleasure than the soreness of your limbs after a day of batting. Nothing can be compared to the feeling of leaving a ball millimetres away from the off-stump…Yes there won’t be any spectators and the high one gets while donning India colours and playing in front of 100,000 people, but the sound of ball hitting the middle of the bat and the joy of winning the small battle with the bowlers will remain.”
If Chopra has strong views on team composition, tosses and bowling changes made by others, then he is brutally honest when it comes to assessing himself as well. For example, he admits that the incoming delivery has been his nemesis ever since his Test days. Seeking psychiatric help to fight the demons within is another.
After 10 Tests and over a decade of first class cricket, Chopra writes that he is fortunate to have been picked whenever he scored at a time ‘capricious’ selectors ensured many struggled to make it to zonal teams. “To constantly live with the possibility that someone who has performed a lot less than you might get the nod ahead of you must be heartbreaking,” he writes.
Despite the heartbreaks (not making the cut despite scoring the most runs last season), Chopra neither loses perspective nor the lightness of touch that keeps the narrative crackling. Through notes, quotes, anecdotes and intimate jottings, his diary of the 2007-08 season shows contemporary cricketers and administrators in a new light.
Sample these — Caribbean captain Chris Gayle fancies acting in Bollywood and Hollywood; Virender Sehwag rewards Delhi team-mates by gifting them Oakley sunglasses; a Delhi cricketer once offered Chopra his ‘lucky’ abdominal guard to help him out of a rut; Shah Rukh Khan texted every Kolkata Knight Rider (KKR) team member before an IPL match and taught them how to dance.
There are more such enlivening tidbits. Chopra was not on talking terms with a team-mate but the two came together on the field to help Delhi win the Ranji Trophy. A cricket board vice president filched caps meant for the Delhi team on match-eve.
Chopra has a nice, feeling turn of phrase. This is how he describes the helplessness of a non-striker as he watches a bowler overstep constantly: “All you can do standing at the non-striker’s end is to sketch the popping crease with either the bat or the shoe and draw the umpire’s attention to it in some way. I’ve seen a bowler bowling six no balls in an over without being called. All I could do was improve my drawing skills.” One can quite understand why KKR teammate Tatenda Taibu told Chopra, exasperated by his constant carping: “You think too much mate.”
If you’ve lost interest after reading the first three jottings, this book is not for you. But if you don’t detest cricket, Chopra's chronicle of the 2007-08 season will keep you engaged.