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.