DELHI // When Chirag Suri landed a contract with Gujarat Lions in the Indian Premier League, it was never a guarantee of first-team cricket.
Game time for the UAE batsman has been nil so far in the 10 matches Gujarat have played in IPL 10 to date.
No shame in that, of course, given he is competing for a place in the batting line-up with fellow overseas players Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dwayne Smith and Jason Roy.
The 22-year-old student travelled to Rajkot from Dubai ahead of this tournament with his eyes wide open.
So he has not had the chance to play just yet. No problem. What his playing contract has afforded him is a behind-the-scenes pass to the big show, a glimpse into the lives of cricket’s rich and famous.
The main thing he has noticed? It turns out the stars of the IPL have got their gilded celebrities because of a commitment to hard work.
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McCullum? He may be retired from the international game, but still he never leaves the nets.
Suresh Raina? Suri says the captain is one of the hardest working members of the Gujarat squad, and an open book when it comes to dispensing expertise to the junior players.
And ‘Sir’ Ravindra Jadeja? Nothing like his social media persona, according to his young teammate from the UAE.
Suri says the world’s No 1 ranked Test bowler, the flamboyant, swashbuckling all-rounder with the showy, bat-twirling celebrations, is “lovely”.
“He is a very sweet, simple guy,” Suri says of Jadeja. “He is nothing like he looks on Instagram. He is very humble, and easy to talk to.
“I haven’t seen him working on his celebrations, but he might do, I don’t know. He does like to do his hair, and work on his beard. He is a lovely character.
“You know how we perceive their lives to be, because of Instagram and Facebook? It is nothing like that. They lead very simple lives, see their friends, they are humble towards people, that’s it.
“The whole thing that they are special? They work very hard, they train, go to the gym, then chill out by the pool and get ready for the game.”
Suri has been able to bask in some of the reflected glow from the stars. He has been spotted, and signed autographs. No real name checks, just yet. Usually it is “that guy from the UAE, the first one.” Not that he is envious of the attention the big stars receive.
“Our lives in Dubai are far more comfortable,” he said. “Because of the media and the fans, they are restricted in many ways. All they can do is stay in the hotel, maybe have a couple of friends to come over to see them, that’s it.
“They can’t be very social. It is not easy, but that is part of the sport over here. The craze for cricket is amazing. When we go to the game on the bus, there are thousands of people following us. People are asking for autographs everywhere.
“It is obviously a really good experience to be part of this. I am very grateful for it, and it has given me so much to work on.”
Like staying humble. “It is not an easy time because the results have not been great, but in terms of the atmosphere within the team, they are very, very positive people,” Suri said.
“That is something I have learnt. They have no air about them. That is a very good quality. Going forward that is something I should keep in mind, to keep my feet on the ground. People appreciate you more if you are grounded.”
Gujarat Lions captain Suresh Raina is one of the most hard working members of the squad, according to Chirag Suri. Prakash Singh / AFP
He wants the lessons to last. He writes pointers down in a notebook, and refers to them before he goes out to bat — even if it has just been restricted to the nets so far.
“I asked Suresh Raina at nets how he plays that shot over the covers, his trademark shot,” he says.
“He told me the secret to playing that shot is the bowler shouldn’t know you are going to play it. When we were playing on a wicket that was a touch slower, I asked how you go about playing the first six.
“He said that however the pitch is, you have to be positive, then intent has to be positive. Because it is slower, you have to wait for the ball. If it is short, look to hit the ball sideways, and if it is pitched up closer to you, then you try to go straight.
“There are small things like that that I keep asking them about. I keep picking their brains for whatever I can from them. That is what is going to help me.”
Chirag Suri has described Ravindra Jadeja, centre, as a “very sweet, simple guy”. Prakash Singh / AFP
The Lions had their mini revival stunted when they lost to Rising Pune Supergiant on Monday night. Suri was not present. Only a 16-man match day squad travelled to Pune, while the rest went straight on to Delhi, where they face the Daredevils on Thursday.
That meant a rare off-day in a hectic IPL schedule. It could not have been more opportune timing for Suri. He was born in Delhi, and was able to spend Monday catching up with family, before returning to the grind of practice.
His family home is in Punjabi Bagh in the west of India’s capital city, a distance of around 13km from the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium.
A short journey on the map, but one Suri calculates takes approximately an hour, given the high density of traffic in a city with a population approximately the same as Australia.
“It is definitely a different feeling for me, coming back to Delhi as a player, being in front of my family live and watching on TV,” he said.
“My family who aren’t there will be all around the TV, hoping to see me play live. I don’t know if I will play, but hope so.
“I have come a long way, making it to the league — but I want to make it in the league.”
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