Trains of thought

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Trains of thought

Trains of thought
November 17, 2007 Posted by Sanjay Bangar at 12:57 AM in Offbeat

Being a Railwayman people often ask me several questions about train travel. How much time have you spent travelling in trains? Which is the longest journey? And so on.

I’ve travelled an estimated 200,000 km by train in 15 years of first-class cricket. Nowadays, because of the BCCI’s tie-up with airlines companies, most teams travel by air. It takes away the charm of the journey because in a flight everyone is only keen to get to the destination. The whole pleasure of a journey is lost. Railways is probably the only team to still use trains throughout the season.

The Indian Railways is the largest mass transport system operating in the world in terms of travellers per day and every Indian has memories of train journeys. For us cricketers, it’s no different.

During journeys there’s a lot of interaction between players, a fact crucial in a sport like cricket. Long-term friendships are formed when one interacts with colleagues, understanding each other’s background, education, siblings and family. These journeys made team bonding much easier. One understands there is more to life than just cricket.

Our experience of trains usually corresponds with the progress made in our careers. Earlier when a player used to get picked for Under-15, Under-17 or his University team, he used to travel in second class compartments. When he progressed to the Ranji Trophy almost all players travelled second AC.

If one made it to the zonal team (for the Duleep or Deodhar Trophy) the tickets are given by organisers but with no guarantee of berth confirmations. I remember vividly a journey in 2000 when ten players of a Central Zone team were booked in an AC compartment from Kanpur to Delhi after a Duleep Trophy match. But only one ticket was confirmed. It was on that one ticket, with some help from co-passengers that we managed to spend the night in the most awkward conditions. It caused a lot of discomfort to all concerned.

You also need to endure some really long journeys. My longest journey has been for 52 hours from Guwahati to Mumbai in 1999. It was after a Duleep Trophy game and I was all by myself, going back home. I spent close to three nights in the train and it passed through so many unknown stations. It was a very lonely experience.

Another problem relates to the massive kit-bag and luggage we need to carry to games. The trains usually tend to be jam-packed and there isn’t much place to store our belongings. In hindsight one acknowledges the tolerance, humility and acceptance of co-passengers, which made it possible for us to travel. People usually used to grant us special status by making adjustments once they realised we were cricketers.

Teamwork also came to our rescue on many occasions. If we had to alight at a station where a train stops for a very short period, we used to form a queue from the seats to the exit and pass on the luggage from one guy to the other. It not only saved us paying exorbitant amounts of money to the porters but also had another big advantage. You could very easily separate a selfish character from a selfless character during these journeys. A selfish character was one who would turn a blind eye once his luggage alighted on the platform.

A related aspect is the allotment of room partners when teams are put up in hotels. Most coaches and managers try and work it out on the following basis – either it’s a senior with a junior to enhance the learning process, or it’s openers sharing a room, fast bowlers being put together, or (in Railways’ case) players being grouped according to their zones. It produces some interesting situations when one member of the room has had a great day and the other a bad one. It’s tough to party when you’ve score a big hundred but seen your room-mate failing on the day. It’s those times when you understand what a great leveller cricket can be and how failure isn’t too far away if you lose focus.

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