The Ranji Trophy has never been just about cricketing rivalries. For an Indian cricketer, it has always been a learning curve. If on-the-field experience taught him how to develop his skills, extensive travelling allowed him to explore the nooks and corners of the country.
But then, it was never easy. While the present lot of cricketers travel mostly by flight, the earlier generation would take the train or the road to reach their destination. On the way, they would come across experiences — some good, some bad, and a few ugly. Sportstar requested three cricketers who had played for India, to bring out their Ranji Trophy travel diaries. Read on…
We belonged to a generation, when Ranji Trophy was played over two legs — the zonal group, followed by the knock-outs. For the zonal matches, most of the journeys were overnight ones. But once you qualified for the next stage, you had to travel to other parts of the country.
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That’s when the long train journeys happened.
There were so many long journeys from Mumbai to Jamshedpur or to Kolkata. Those long hours in a train would make so many lovely memories, and would also help better team bonding.
These days even the junior teams travel by flight, and I thank the BCCI for making it possible. In our times, things were different, but we enjoyed every bit of it.
But then, there were instances when over-enthusiastic fans would literally chase the cricketers at the railway stations or even come inside the compartment to get autographs. While they were mostly taken in good spirit, I remember one incident when Dilip Vengsarkar got into a scuffle with one of the fans that led to a big mess inside the compartment.
It was sometime in 1977-78. Mumbai was to play in Jamshedpur, and some young guys rushed into the compartment and started making noise. All of us were upset, but Dilip suddenly lost his cool and bashed up one of the guys. This led to vandalism. The group of fans started breaking everything around, and even injured a few passengers. This went on for a while before the Railway securitymen intervened to bring situation back to normal.
But that apart, travelling with the Mumbai team was always fun. It had great stars like Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil, Vengsarkar and many more. You could share so many stories with them and it felt like one big family. Those were the days!
(Ghavri played for India and Mumbai)
I am grateful to cricket for more reasons than one. It has given me everything in life — fame, money, memories. And, it has also allowed me to discover the nooks and corners of the country. During our playing days, we would travel to various places, where one wouldn’t normally go. But as a cricketer, you had to be there to play domestic cricket. Those were the days when flying was not the in thing in the domestic circuit, so most of the time, we would either take train or hit the road to reach our destination.
That way, you not only developed a better bonding with the team-mates, but also made so many memories. Some were good, some not so memorable, but in the end, all of them taught you a lesson.
I remember one such incident from my stint with the Bengal Ranji Trophy side. I don’t exactly remember the year, but it was a decade and a half back. We were returning to Kolkata from Dhanbad by car, after one of the games. In our car, there were four of us — Shib Sankar Paul, coach Paras Mhambrey, Deep Dasgupta and I. All of us were tired, and suddenly we found the car going haywire. To our shock, we discovered that the driver had dozed off. We were on the highway and things could have gone horribly wrong. We tried waking up the driver, but that fell on deaf ears. Then, Maco (as we fondly call Shib Shankar), slapped the driver and woke him up. We made the driver park the car on the side of the road and asked him to freshen up. We were all so scared, but Maco kept an eye on the driver during the rest of the journey.
After so many years, it may sound funny, but trust me, even today, it scares me. That day, anything could have happened.
(Gavaskar played for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy and in some ODIs for India.)
Travelling has always been one of the major features of the Ranji Trophy, and during our playing days, this was something we all looked forward to.
We played at a time when most of the travelling was done by train. On a few occasions, we would also go by road. Now, when I look back, the young cricketers of today won’t even be able to imagine how those experiences were. May be, they are blessed!
I remember an incident when we were travelling to Baripada in Orissa for a Ranji Trophy match in the winter of 2002. Those days, it was difficult to reach the small town from Kolkata as there were no direct trains. One had to get off at Balasore and then take a local bus to reach the destination. The bus seats were cramped, with no leg space. By the time, you got down from the bus, you would already feel drained out.
After reaching Baripada, we realised there was no geyser in the hotel and a young boy would get us hot water in buckets. In chilling winter, that was necessary. In that match against Odisha, our bowlers struggled to find breakthroughs and we fielded for nearly three days. After the match was over, we took another long bus ride and reached the Balasore station at midnight. And, there was no place to even sit on the platform.
And senior players even fell asleep there. You can well imagine the situation! After slogging on the field for hours, what a way to spend the night! Finally, we took the train to Kolkata! You can’t even think of such experiences today. But in those days, that’s how it was. Forget air travel, we did not even have the luxury of travelling in AC train coaches.
My woes, however, were still not over. I was then a part of the India side, and the Challengers Trophy was to begin in Bengaluru the day after. So, after a long exhausting journey, I was again travelling — this time to Bengaluru. Those days, there was no direct flight from Kolkata to Bengaluru, so it took more time. And after hours of travel, I was on the field for the Challengers!
Even today I don’t know how I did that!
(Dasgupta captained Bengal in the Ranji Trophy and also played for India.)
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