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Fired-up Aakash refuses to slow down

The 30-year-old Delhi player has scored 1,292 runs in the 2007-'08 season so far and needs 171 more to top the list of most runs scored by a player in the Indian domestic season ever, writes K.R. Guruprasad.
By K.R. Guruprasad | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON FEB 18, 2008 11:22 PM IST

FOR AAKASH Chopra, his life, or at least the cricketing part of it, is yet to come a full circle. But in this domestic season so far, the opener, riding on a tremendous run with the bat, has drawn a giant arc, which almost completes the circle for him.

The 30-year-old Delhi player has scored 1,292 runs in the 2007-'08 season so far and needs 171 more to top the list of most runs scored by a player in the Indian domestic season ever.

And he would get a chance to do that when North Zone take on West in the Duleep Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium here on Tuesday. “I would be lying if I say that I am not thinking about the record," Chopra said here after nets on Monday. "This will the last match of the season and I don't want to miss out on it."

"At the same time, when I step out to bat, I’d like to think I wouldn’t be thinking about it. But if I get a start, I’m sure I would be a bit aware if I get close to the record.”

And he is quite close considering that the record for highest runs scored in a season is held by Vijay Bharadwaj of Karnataka who aggregated 1,463 runs in 1998-99 season. Chopra now stands fourth in that list. (See box)

The last season, he ended the fifth highest scorer. He ended the last first-class season (not Indian) with a century for the MCC in England against Sri Lanka A and began the Indian domestic season with a double hundred against South Africa A. "That's when I realized I am in good touch," said Chopra.

"Halfway through I had scored 700 runs from eight games. That's when I figured that this would not be a run of the mill season and that's when the thought of the record first occurred to me."

But it was when he was not picked in the Indian squad for the tour of Australia that he was fired up. "When the Australian selection did not happen, I was very disappointed. I thought I had a good chance. I was in the probables shortlist, Gautam (Gambhir) was injured and I felt as there was no other opener in the list, I would make the grade.”

"When I wasn't selected, it would have been easy for me to sulk and drift away. But then I realized that I had to go back to the domestic circuit and score more runs. After all, if you go down without a fight, who will remember you?”

Chopra had a decent start to his career in international cricket. In the 2002-03 series in Australia, he shared a few solid starts with his partner Virender Sehwag. He did a splendid job in seeing off the new ball but never crossed the 50-run mark himself, with a highest of 48. “In Australia, I guess I did the job for the team but did not do enough for myself," said Aakash. "I was told to see off the new ball but was not told to get out in the 40s. I should have scored a few big runs.”

But he was dropped from the Indian team after the home series against Australia in 2004. Then began a phase where he said he saw dramatic changes in himself. "I had a lot of questions to be asked but did not know whom to ask," said Chopra. "I turned to spirituality. I discovered the joy of doing different things."

He said it was also a humbling experience. "When you are playing for the country it is easier to get carried away. Sometimes you ignore people who mean a lot to you. So, after I was dropped I realized who my true friends are."

And mostly, going by his words, his swinging back to form and a terrific one at that is largely due to taking a relaxed approach to the game.

"Now I enjoy my cricket. I realised that I was putting myself under a lot of pressure worrying about making a return. Now, I just go out and there enjoy my batting, I bat the way I used to bat. It’s not out and out aggressive cricket, but it is a combination of solidity and controlled aggression.”

Chopra is now 30 and he said he realized he is not getting any younger. And in these days when the emphasis is on younger players, this was one season that was make or break for him. "Thankfully, it has gone well for me. I could not have scripted it better."

He says he is quite hopeful of making an India comeback. "It is a Test heavy season ahead and if there is a vacancy at the top, I think I should make it."

And it is a strange irony that just when he started believing cricket is not everything, that he is having the finest form of his career. “I have understood that cricket is important but not the end of life," he said.

And after this stupendous season, if he does make it to the top flight, cricket would have come full circle for him.

Most runs by an Indian in first-class season

Runs Players Teams Season

1463 R Vijay Bhardwaj Karnataka, President Xi, SZ 1998-99

1423 Vijay Hazare Baroda, Rest 1943-44

1375 Rusi Modi Mumbai (Bombay), Parsees 1944-45

1292 Aakash Chopra Ind A, Rest of Ind,Delhi,NZ 2007-08

1288 Ajay Sharma Delhi, NZ 1994-95

1287 Ajit Wadekar Mumbai (Bombay),WZ 1965-66

1287 Vijay Merchant Mumbai (Bombay), Hindu1944-45

1263 S Sriram Tamil Nadu, President Xi,SZ 2001-02

1245 Dheeraj Jadhav Maharashtra,WZ 2003-04

1218 Vinod Kambli Mumbai, Rest of Ind, WZ 1991-92

1217 Ajay Sharma Delhi, NZ 1995-96

1200 Vikram Rathaore Punjab,NZ 1998-99

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