More than a few times this summer, I’ve felt exactly the way I felt a decade ago, while making my first-class debut. Beyond the doing it for our country and ourselves, beyond the money and glamour of being a cricketer, there’s something most of us crave, the respect of our peers.
Sometimes it comes naturally but on other occasions, you really have to fight for it. When I made my first-class debut against Services in 1997, the overriding emotion of that day was to make everyone realise that this kid was good enough.
Luckily, I did well enough and while I faced a lot of similar situations afterwards, I somehow muddled through them, laughing sometimes, sometimes with tears.
After a few years on the first-class circuit though, almost everyone had seen me get runs, so I had crossed a crucial psychological barrier. I didn’t have to prove myself to my peers.
This is the funny thing about us cricketers, no matter how well another cricketer has done, if he hasn’t done it in front of us, we often (and sometimes to our own peril) rarely rate him too highly.
I remember reading Dennis Lillee’s autobiography Menace, where he talked about Kiwi great Glenn Turner. “Glenn Turner, on the other hand, I didn’t get on with as a bloke or rate as a batsman.
He rarely made many runs against us, and you can rate a player on what he does when you play against him…. But then I never rated Sunil Gavaskar either, and yet he has proved to be a great batsman. The only way I could judge a player was on the way he batted when I bowled to him.”
A rookie again
This year, I was called to play for the Lashings World XI. I had heard about them and they became quite a household name when Sachin Tendulkar played for them last year.
They had put together a big-name team for the most and let me be honest here — I was in fine nick and vaguely knew we were playing nobody major but I was quite the rookie in the squad.
For the rest of my star teammates, it was just another game. For me, it was a baptism by fire. I felt 19-year-old again except that it was worse, I had already played Test cricket. Some of them had heard of me and most hadn't, which was expected and accepted, after all I hadn’t set the world of cricket on fire.
This wasn’t India. While I’m blessed to be known by quite a few people at home, here in England, no one would have paid attention to my contributions at the top of the order or standing at short leg in my brief Test career (so far!).
These were just basically fun games, but I found myself taking them far more seriously, I suspect, than my more illustrious teammates, who perished while trying to hit the first ball. They weren't too concerned about it either. I was, and fortunately, managed to hold my own and ended up being called up again.
Finding a balance
The next time around I felt this way, a bundle of nervous energy, was while playing for the MCC at Lord’s against an European team . My team wasn’t as star-studded as the Lashings one (which can be both a curse and a boon) but the whole atmosphere of playing at Lord’s and the MCC wafts around you.
Yet again, I was eager to leave a mark but by stumps, realised that enthusiasm can work both ways. I tried to play in a way that doesn't come naturally. The track had life in it and the ball was darting all over and the slope on the pitch wasn't helping me.
Instead of biding my time, I went for too many shots too soon and ended up getting out in a manner more associated with my famed opening partner, Sehwag. I was caught at third man off a pacer trying to upper cut (true, true!).
Well, by the time my first-class game for the MCC against Sri Lanka A came around last week, I had figured out a balance (at least in my head) and as I walked into the middle, I whistled quietly to myself, “I will survive”. I did.