The toughest cricket match of my life

The toughest cricket match of my life

In India, it seems, there are two classes of travel—“First Class", and “For Cricketers". And here, I talk strictly of the domestic cricketers—the poor pedigree, who scuttles from one end of the country to the other, sometimes packed in dilapidated roadways busses, or crammed between berths on good old hold-all bags on a train without a booking. Of course, it could get worse if your team happens to lose a crucial game. Well, none of us, the players from Delhi, had any such apprehensions, yet, since the season had just started in the November of 2007. We had assembled at the domestic airport at the outskirts of the city to board a flight to Dharamshala for our upcoming Ranji game against Himachal Pradesh.

Unfortunately though, the inclement weather in the mountains thwarted all our plans of deluxe travel. As we tripped over reality, half of us, bundled in an overnight bus to Dharamshala, while the rest of us, luckier, or so we thought, took the next flight to Amritsar to later travel by road to the venue. If all went by plan, we’d go to bed by midnight, we had opined.

Shortly after landing in Amritsar, the skies opened up. One could imagine this road trip up the hills to be the perfect setting for a quintessential romantic tete-a-tete, only if the fellow passengers were a bit more inspiring. Alas! Most of us chose to recline and doze off in our seats. Soon though, mist enveloped the area and visibility dropped massively. Driving through those narrow, steep roads was flirting with danger with a deep valley on one side and the margin of error being less than a few inches.

Well, we finally reached our hotel by midnight, surviving all the scares, completely drenched and physically drained. The tour started on the wrong foot but we didn’t fret, for everything was slated to change on the ground. After all, Delhi was at its full strength with Virender Sehwag leading the pack and our opposition not worth losing sleep over, or so we thought.

The match started in right earnest with Sehwag winning the toss. Surprisingly enough, he put Himachal Pradesh in to bat first. It was a good batting surface and a typical win-the-tossand-bat-first-wicket, but, by Sehwag’s logic, we needed to bowl the opposition out for less than 250 runs, bat big ourselves and finish the game with bowling them out again to win the match.

A perfect match! But cricket seldom follows the planned route.

Himachal Pradesh made us pay the ultimate price for being arrogant as they batted and batted and batted, while we toiled and toiled, and toiled a bit more. It’s worth mentioning here that our hotel was in the back and beyond and it used to take us one hour to commute twice a day. If the time spent on the ground was not tiring enough, the journey through the mountains after the match certainly was.

They finally got out around tea on the second day and now it was our turn to bat. Sehwag opened with Gautam Gambhir.

I was slated at 3, Shikhar Dhawan at 4, Rajat Bhatia at 5, Puneet Bisht at 6 and Mithun Manhas at 7. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find place in the playing 11 for Virat Kohli—such was the strength of our batting line-up. So, what if our first plan went haywire, we could still bat them out of the game and have another shot at them towards the end, we had mused. But once again, we miscalculated.

Our star-studded batting line-up was shot down for just 75 runs. And, perhaps for the first time, Himachal Pradesh enforced the follow-on against Delhi. We found ourselves batting for the second time before the second day got over.

The mental agony of such humiliation made the physical agony of fielding for around 150 overs feel trivial. We lost Sehwag early in the second innings too and I walked in to join Gambhir. I was in the middle of a great season and made up for the first innings failure by remaining unbeaten at the end of the third day.

But our team was still not out of the woods. We needed to bat at least for two more sessions to avoid ultimate humiliation.

Luck beckoned as we safely negotiated the first two sessions on Day 4. I got a double century and managed to stay on the ground for all four days. I was deadbeat, both physically and mentally. My body hurt in places I didn’t know existed. Of course, I didn’t want to throw away my wicket, but the knowledge that your wicket might make the team lose the match adds pressure like nothing else. Well, we succeeded in drawing the match, which was a good result.

But the ordeal wasn’t over yet, for we needed to get out of Dharamshala as quickly as possible as the next match was slated to start in Maharashtra in three days. We boarded a non-AC bus from Dharamshala to Delhi (that was the only option available at that time) and wore three layers of clothes to battle the cold.

But none of it seemed enough, for we froze by the time we entered Delhi 12 hours later. This was one of the most tiring tours, which ideally, I’d like to forget but will never be able to for obvious reasons—you don’t hit double centuries every day.

Akash Chopra opened for India in Test cricket.

Respond to this column at