For Aakash Chopra, former India player and former Delhi captain, making a choice to play for Rajasthan—a lower ranked Plate division team in Ranji Trophy—was perhaps not easy. Representing his home team for 13 long years had made him a loyalist. But when he was named as the Delhi captain for longer version in Ranji and dropped from the One Day squad, he knew his time had come to move on. “The manner in which I learnt about my omission from Ranji one dayers was harsh. That’s when I knew my time had come to move on and accept new challenges in my career,” stated the stylish opening batsman.
Two years since he made the decision of playing for Rajasthan, the team has won two Ranji titles in a row. As much as cricket gurus would hate to accept, Rajasthan, an underdog team placed No.27th in Ranji, have catapulted their fortunes in Indian domestic circuit.
Last year, they were moved up to the Ranji elite division after topping the Plate group. (In Ranji Trophy, the rule is that the team which tops Plate division will directly enter the knockout stage of Elite group)
With just few known names—Aakash Chopra, Rishikesh Kanitkar and bowler Pankaj Singh, Rajasthan managed to topple big names Mumbai, Tamil Nadu and Baroda in the top six stage to win the coveted Trophy for the first time in 2010-11 season.
Their success was almost written off by cricket critics simply because the team didn’t play the league stage of Ranji. However, defending the title this year speaks volumes about this team.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.com, former India player and author of Out of Blue Aakash Chopra talks about the team’s transformation and also his passion for writing.
Winning the Ranji Trophy twice in a row is huge. Tell us about the celebrations…
The usual high-fives and loud shouts were a part of the celebrations. But compared to last season’s win, the celebrations were a little mild. We Were a bit more relaxed and calm. Actually by the end of third day’s play we were certain that we would win. So there was a long time for us to let the feeling sink in. Had it gone down to the wire and then we would have won, it would have been different. But none the less, it’s a fantastic feeling and it can’t be expressed by mere words. Winning back-to-back Ranji title is obviously a great joy.
Last year when Rajasthan won the title, there were a few critics who didn’t acknowledge your win the way it was suppose to…
In cricket, when you do well you will have detractors. We don’t give too much weight especially when it’s to do with people who think on those lines. Even to get promoted from Plate division to Elite takes a lot. You lose by a run you are back to the Plate. And it was not easy for us. When we entered the knockout stage last year from the Plate division, we had to play the defending champions Mumbai. In the semis it was Tamil Nadu and then Baroda in the final. Critics not acknowledging our win only because we did not play all the teams in the Elite stage was a bit harsh but it was expected.
We were No.27 team in Ranji Trophy and were not suppose to win. Had we failed this time then people would have definitely said that our win last year was a flash in the pan. But we are only the fifth team in the history of Ranji Trophy to defend the title. People should not have doubts about our abilities anymore.
The Rajasthan team is not glamorous when compared to Mumbai, Tamil Nadu or even Karnataka. It’s just you, Rishikesh Kanitkar and Pankaj Singh who are well known in the team. It must have been a huge transformation for some of the players?
Actually having no stars works in our favour. We don’t have national players or IPL stars and rightfully so, the hunger is a bit more in these players and they are not easily satisfied. This is a team made up of nobody. What matters is the number of runs or wickets you take on the field. Robin Bhist has done exceedingly well this season so has Vineet Saxena. In fact, there is healthy competition within the team for pacers. These players have hunger to get noticed.
You were dropped from the Delhi side. It was after that that you decided to play for Rajasthan. How hard or easy was it to make that choice?
I was named the captain of the Delhi team in the longer format and was dropped from the One Day team. And this I got to know from the media. I felt unfair especially to learn about it from the media and not my team mates of the officials. At that moment I was sure it was time to move. I had been getting a lot of offers previous season. But I was emotional about playing for my home team and the loyalty factor made me not take up the offers. But when I was not needed any more, I moved on. My coach and mentor who was with Rajasthan then called me and asked me to play and I could not say no to him. To be honest, I am not regretting the decision one bit. Thirteen seasons with Delhi and one Ranji Trophy title where as two seasons with Rajasthan and two titles, this is certainly more satisfying.
This year however, the road to the title was not easy. At start, you guys had just five points from five matches and then there was a turn around…
Yes, we had a bumpy ride. In our first game we were asked to follow on against Karnataka. After five league matches we had only five points. There was a realist chance of us going down and back to the Plate division. It was the game against Saurashtra that brought us back. The win there took relegation out of our mind. Winning against Orissa was a bonus. First five games whatever had to go wrong had already gone wrong. We didn’t look back after that. In the semifinal in Rohtak, we were shot down to 189 and then we bounced back. As a batting unit we were getting runs. But you can’t save the game with just batting. It’s really the bowlers; they delivered when we needed them the most. They bowled their heart out.
You have suited yourself to different roles. When you are not playing, you are either writing a book or a column or you are commentating. Is it just that you enjoy these roles or there comes a time in a sportsperson’s career when they have to look at other avenues?
I think it’s just me. But I think like you said, there does come a time when sportspersons might have to look for different avenues to keep them going. I wrote my first book when we won the Ranji Trophy for Delhi. I think writing for me works as a companion. It makes me perform better too. Writing for me is very satisfying and it’s not difficult for me to juggle different roles. Cricket, of course, comes first and writing comes next. When I write, I am analyzing the game side by side and this helps me put my thoughts into action.
If I am not playing cricket, I am writing or reading and it’s a way for me to relax.