Black & White

Childhood was a wide eyed concept of reality. Every thing was 70 mm. Every thing was magic, everything was fantasy.

By the time one entered ones teens, one was still starry eyed about love, longing and life in general. Being a 17 year old was a challenge in itself. Being realistic itself was beyond imagination.That was a long time back. Decades back. It was an entirely forgettable decade ‘personally’. Not playing any professional sport, loving sport at the same point in time and being from a middle class back ground was an impotent mixture. It could never work. It never did. But one knew of 3 guys, who also came from a middle class back ground, were doing very well as sportsmen even at that age and were being tipped to be destined for glory.

Every one had read of the SRT – VK partnership and one felt that these guys were achieving what one had dreamt of, but never had the talent to really target. Somehow one couldn’t feel connected to the duo as Shivaji Park seemed an elitist joint, wrinkling its nose at people from the northern suburbs. The fact, that SRT lived in Bandra and Kambli in Kanjurmarg (if memory serves one well) was overlooked. They played at Shivaji Park. End of argument. The 3rd guy on the other hand, stayed in the same suburb. One would see him on his scooter once in a while and what would one give to be on his scooter (just like being in his shoes). He was one of the most famous guys in town and he knew it. He was touted as THE future cricketer of the sleepy suburb who would make the country proud. He would be our answer to that high brow Shivaji Park cricketer. He was Abhijit Kale. One never managed to talk with him but was always aware of his presence on that one main road in the small suburb. That was the only road guys would walk on, trying to impress some girl who was more beautiful than Aishwarya Rai and more intelligent than a Judith Polgar (there’s this saying in Sanskrit – prapte tu shodashe varshe … –  meaning that once you reach the age of 16, even a donkey looks beautiful).

We moved on in life. Luck favoured self. He kept on playing cricket. And he was doing well. One hoped he would still make it in the big league because of his talent. He had the talent, one believed. SRT had already achieved icon status then. (Well before anyone had heard or imagined an IPL.)

But somewhere down the line, frustration started building up. Being on the same pedestal with SRT at the age of fifteen wasn’t helping him secure an assured place in the Mumbai Ranji team for 3 years. He shifted to Maharashtra where he found a permanent place. The overwhelming ambition of playing for the country fuelled intense competitive spirit. But he always remained on the fringes. He was good but he was no good. The selectors were not willing to hear his side of the story. A first class average of 50+ wasn’t getting him in a test team which boasted of the Big 4 in the middle order. Maybe at that point in time, regional loyalties of selectors also played a role in denying him his chance. The more he was overlooked, the harder he tried, the more bitter a person he turned into. As normally happens in cricket, the harder a batsman tries to hit a ball, the more awry goes his timing and the more the chances of him getting out.

Cricket, being a team sport, makes an individual player subservient. As in any team sport. A player has to first be in the team to showcase his talent. A player’s team has to win consistently for the player to be noticed. In a rare instance, one might find an individual shining in defeat and making it big despite his side’s poor showing. Especially rare in cricket where one reaches the big stage only when one plays for his country. (voices may be raised about IPL but there’s some time to go for that to be irrevocably proved.). To be in a team one is at the mercy of the selectors. Team sport vis-à-vis individual sport makes a fascinating study. One’s dependence, or lack of it, on others, being a substantial difference. As a Tennis player, one might feel hard done some times with a draw (at the start of one’s career, say on the junior circuit). But all the Tennis prodigy has to do is to go and win every single match in a tournament there is to win. And lo behold, (s)/he has arrived. Success in a team sport has too many external variables. Individual success of a player and his team’s success may be interlinked but not necessarily so (Ask SRT’s many detractors). The external variables were not favouring Kale and time was running out. He was getting close to 30, still not considered for an India cap. Still not financially secure.

In April 2003 he was selected to play an ODI against Bangladesh. Gathering from the reports one has come across, some time then he was offered a contract by Percept D’Mark with a clause which specified that if he did not play within a year for India or India ‘A’, the company would not be bound to pay him his money. This information came from a statement by Kamal Morarka, the then vice president of BCCI.

In November 2003, two selectors – Kiran More and Pranab Roy – brought two charges against Kale, who they claimed tried to pressurise them and offered bribes to get selected into the team, The evidence offered was a few phone calls made to More, Kale’s mother’s visit to More’s house where she pleaded for his inclusion in the team, and Kale’s meeting with Roy at an airport. There was no witness to confirm any verbal offer to bribe. Whether it was a question of his being pressurised by the system or being naïve in dealing with the case, one doesn’t know. It was two men’s word against another. A country was stirred into action when similar accusations were termed ‘baseless’ using the same rationale. But Kale wasn’t Bhajji and the selectors were not ‘Australians’.

In June 2004, he was banned from cricket up to Dec 2004. He obviously hadn’t played between Nov 2003 and June 2004. Now how does a ban affect a player? And how does one respond to career threatening events? He didn’t take it too kindly. With a few years of cricket left in him, almost no chance of making it to the national team because of the taint and shattered dreams, he tried picking up the broken pieces. There was too much going through his mind. Extreme focus can some times easily turn into complete disinterest from a shock. To add to his woes, he shifted teams from Maharashtra to Tripura on an impulse for being left out of the team. What followed was a barren period. Dec 2006 was the most recent Ranji trophy appearance for Tripura. Since then it’s been a walk through wilderness again.

This article was a culmination of a lot of issues that one has come across. It was about a journey of a person one felt close to. It was about a journey that went wrong somewhere. History always likes winners. Most of us do as well. But it may be just one small incident that can change one’s claim on history.

The other issue has been a fresh approach by the current selectors and the news of a Rs 1 crore bonus paid to the selectors after the CB victory. Maybe this will reduce the chances of more Kales suffering from the system.

The Percept D’Mark contract clause in the AK saga and the current mad rush to sign up u19, fringe players – hoping for a gold mine some where at the end of the rainbow, might see such incidents revisited.

Kiran More left the BCCI and has now joined the ICL.

Kale in marathi means ‘black’, hence the title ‘Black n White’

Last heard, Abhijit Kale will be player/coach at the Linden Park Cricket Club playing Division 3 in the Kent League for the 2008 season.

Posted by Rahul.

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17 thoughts on “Black & White

  1. Off- topic – can you do the same write up of another player who didn’t make it to the top during the same period, but did not turn a cheat – Amol Majumdar.

  2. Ottayan,

    🙂 would love to.. And I haven’t really branded Kale as a cheat anywhere in the article. At least that’s not the intention of this piece.

    cheers

  3. I second Jaideep’s comment….

    Playing for India is at the end of the day the hardest thing to do. Even the JEE exam for the IIT’s admit’s 3% of applicants, but once they are in, doesn’t kick them out. Cricket is unlike any of this.

    If we were to do the math and consider just the first class teams – 27 of them i believe – we have 405 first class cricketers (squads of 15). The Indian squad includes 15 members (say) and at any given time about 3-4 spots are in play. So you have 400 odd cricketers looking for 3-4 spots, and even of that 1% who make it, they could get dropped due to one failure, or sometimes without having played at all.

    Considering the kind of ambition, talent and effort it takes just to become a first class cricketer, you can just imagine how much character is required seek an India cap!

    And just how hard is selection…..

  4. Thanks Jaideep,

    Given its a part time hobby, I try and stick to things I have some idea about and I am passionate about. Hence sport related topics.. Point taken though.. Will try my hand some time at other topics.. But then we’ll have to start another blog 🙂

    cheers

  5. Kartikeya,

    thanks for your support. Some times when I play cricket or any sport for that matter, I suddenly realise how high the level of sport is at an international event. And then I remember RD’s comments about couch potatoes.

    cheers

  6. Being a hardcore Mumbai Team supporter hve heard of more than one Abhijit Kales in the system.

    Stories like Amol Muzumdar (MCA cap for life),Abey Kuruvilla (140 + bowler chosen when he was 125 kmph),Rajesh Kulkarni (eternal 12th man),Rajesh Pawar (Flight to Assam) saddened me.

    Pained to see Vijay Bharadwaj DMohanty Subrato Banerjee Rahul Sanghvi make the grade instead.

    Need of the hour .. Frustration made ppl change teams – at worse professions.Guess the system made us lose of a few many of such stars

    Where does one go from here??

    Does ICL signing young India prospects (effectively ruling them out for a national cap) help avoid another Kale ??

    Does the newly aped – oops thts a forbidden word -copied contract sytem by BCCI help them ??

    Does IPL / or the Ranji payout help them ??

    Whatever the solution .. An Indian cricket fan hopes to hear less of such doomsday stories

  7. Nikhil,

    thanks for the incisive comments. I took Kale as the protagonist as his case was the most glaring. I wouldn’t put a Mumbai v/s others spin to it but the players you mentioned did have the potential. Do you remember Raju Kulkarni, who was given only a few overs to bowl in a test, as the captain then wanted a certain Chetan Sharma in the team.

    I think ICL, IPL and higher Ranji fees will help youngsters from a financial perspective. But as you pointed out joining ICL effectively puts one out of the national team for ever.

    So what about people who want to represent the country? I think that can be fixed (wrong word 🙂 ) by ‘professional’ selectors who are paid for their services. There will be some arbitrary selections (I still am unsure of Joginder Sharma’s claim to fame), but atleast there will be no questions about their ‘integrity’ (now that’s a word I really like)

    cheers

  8. This one is your best so far, Rahul. Thought-provoking chain of replies as well.

    I am not sure how much sympathy I’d have for Abhijit Kale as an individual. There were many such talented guys who did not make it to the Indian team; but what about those who were stars for India but still were in dire straits in their later years! CK Nayudu could not afford to get two of his daughters married, that was the level of financial stability our greats of yesteryear had. At least Abhijit Kale had a steady job (with a govt. bank I believe), he was picked for Maharashtra after his ban ended and I am sure he will continue to earn a decent living as a coach somewhere in the world.

    To my mind, the best part of the ICL/IPL is that now instead of just the top 20-30 players, the top 200 players can make a good living. Future Abhijit Kales may not earn the team India megabucks, but they also would not suffer like CK Nayudu.

  9. Shrirang,

    As I have mentioned at the start of the post, there have been a lot of such examples of talent going unrecognised. Abhijit Kale came to my mind because of proximity of location and maybe age.
    Your point about yesteryear greats dying in an impoverished state is completely taken. But adding that to the piece would make it a novelette 🙂
    Financial instability was only a part of the problem. One’s dream to wear an India cap can’t be overemphasized.
    ICL/IPL takes care of the first part. I think the other part is where the selectors have to be as transparent as possible.

    Thanks again for your insightful comments

    cheers

  10. The one possible spin-off of the current league excitement in India could be the avoidance of many such suicides…real and metaphorical.

    Some things just didn’t happen at the right time for Abhijit Kale. Good write.

  11. Great write-up. I am not a die-hard cricket type, just the mother of one, and so am prone to picking up info from the environment. I remember reading about Abhijit Kale. I liked the balance in your article and the human interest element .

    best wishes

  12. Soulberry,

    thanks for yor appreciation.

    How many young/old Indians finally end up in the league is a question that comes to mind. IPL and ICL put together already have a decent percentage of established players (Be it Indian or non-Indians).

    I hope the leagues dont throw up EPL teams like Arsenal, which sometimes doesn’t have even one English player playing a match. In which case we will be back to square one.

    We shall see.

    cheers

  13. Hi Suranga/ Mrs. Date,

    I have been an avid reader of your blog and am really thankful for your comments. I was really unsure about how to address you so have used 2.

    Thanks again

    cheers

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