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Delhi's favourite sons go back to basics

Vijay Lokapally

New Delhi: The scorching heat is no hindrance for some of Delhi's international cricketers to leave the comforts of their homes and turn up for matches featuring their clubs and institutions. Stars like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, youngsters like Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, do not miss an opportunity to play at grounds where they first began their cricket journeys.

“I love playing local cricket because it brings back memories of the days when we would dream of playing big cricket. It provides us with a chance to keep in touch with the basics of the game. Remembering the basics and your humble beginnings help you keep your feet on the ground,” says Sehwag, who would happily travel a good 35km (from his Najafgarh home) just to play a local cricket match. And this a few weeks after he had made a Test triple century!

Yuvraj was at the Old St. Stephen's College ground on Sunday, chipping in with a century for Air India. “The heat was too much, but I enjoyed the cricket. It is important to play these matches because it helps you regain form and allows you to experiment too. It also helps to keep you fit. This (form of) cricket was an important part of my grooming process and I always look forward to it,” insists Yuvraj.

For Gambhir, it was local cricket that taught him the essence of aggression. He was known to be a fierce competitor and would revel in winning matches single-handedly. “The pressure of performing is what I enjoy in local cricket. The bowlers want to get you and you also want to succeed. It becomes an engaging contest and often brings out the best out of me. It helps me during difficult times in international cricket,' notes Gambhir.

Delhi has a rich history of local cricket and some of the tournaments have provided the foundation for many players to achieve their dreams.

“Delhi cricket was very competitive. You always had to be at your best,” Navjot Singh Sidhu would say. In the past, stars like V. V. S.

Laxman and Javagal Srinath have also tried their skills in Delhi's local cricket.

Sidhu used to sweat it out in Delhi. “Scoring runs in Delhi tournaments was very challenging,” he remembers. His stint at the Sheesh Mahal tournament in Lucknow paved the way for his selection to the Indian team for the1987 World Cup where he excelled with four half centuries in a row.

Vijay Dahiya, coach of Delhi and Kolkata Knight Riders, maintains that a sting in local cricket can do wonders to your confidence. “It helps you sort out minor problems. It is a platform where a youngster can test his skill against international cricketers. A good performance here can earn you a job and a place in the state team.”

For Ishant Sharma, keen to regain his rhythm, playing local cricket is the best way to regain form. “You can refresh yourself. You learn to respect the basics and relive the process of improvement. It is as tough as it can be. You bowl to an unknown opponent and discover lessons the hard way when he coolly steps out and clouts you. I don't miss a chance to play in local cricket because it prepares you to be mentally tough,' says the young fast bowler.

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