How often is a cricket team described as the sum of its parts? The power of the collective over-rides that of the individual. It is an enduring cliche that Aakash Chopra bravely turns on its head in his second book Out of the Blue. While writing about Rajasthan's incredible run to their first ever Ranji Trophy title in the season of 2010-11, Aakash paints a vivid picture of the many individual triumphs that accomplish the impossible.
Rajasthan start the season at the bottom of the pile in the plate division - 27th out of 27 teams- and end it with the country's most coveted cricket trophy in their arms.
Out of the Blue is an apt title for a journey of self-discovery. A cricketer ruthlessly discarded by his home state who is told not by coaches or officials but a newspaper report that the team he has turned up for season after season and piled on a mountain of runs for now considers him excess baggage. A career at the crossroads finds a second wind just down the highway. A short journey undertaken with the fear of the unknown transfers Aakash to a resplendent new world.
Aakash is an enthusiastic island in his new set-up. Observing and asking, cajoling and encouraging. The senior pro is also a chronicler of the lives of his new compatriots. So we learn of Pankaj Singh jostling between an obscure career in volleyball to his love for fast bowling. And we come face to face with the devotion of Deepak Chahar's father, burdened by debt yet consumed by his son's dream.
We are told of Gajendra Singh, continuing to chisel his craft as a left-arm spinner despite the crippling loss of both parents. We are introduced to Madhur Khatri, uncaring about the guffaws, using the spare time between duties as a token handler for the Railways to fine tune his bowling action. We rejoice with the 'wonder-kid' in the set-up, Ashok Menaria, who comes to see that playing cricket itself is a reward; beyond the accolades and the fancy off-shoots.
Vaibhav Deshpande, Robin Bist, Rohit Jhalani, Sumit Mathur and many others are usually names buried in obscure scorecards. Here they become real people. That is the book's most significant triumph.
Aakash resists the temptation to position himself as the central character in this story. He surveys the mind of fellow professional Hrishikesh Kanitkar, who dons the mantle of captaincy.
Hrishi is a veteran of the domestic circuit who has felt the same stab of rejection as Aakash on being dumped by a callous local association in Maharashtra. He is restrained yet deeply ambitious, having never won a Ranji title in nearly two decades on the circuit.
As is Rashmi Ranjan Parida, who Aakash describes succinctly as a 'rolling stone', imported from Orissa to an unexpected new home, where he experiences his greatest moment in cricket.
Out of the Blue is a joyous journey through a world that survives on the fringes of the behemoth that is Indian cricket. The domestic circuit is often dismissed as dreary and monotonous. Aakash thankfully avoids the standard sermons on the glaring defects in the running and administering of the breeding ground for India's future cricketers. Instead, he adopts a refreshing approach.
Laced with candour, humour and heart-warming anecdotes, this is the kind of story that never goes out of vogue. Read Out of the Blue if only to realise that sometimes fairytales really do happen! And the little guy does win!