New Delhi: Dhoni was right in one way. Players have to make their own choices about their bodies, but it’s not always that easy – not if you’re not Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid.
My problem with the IPL Nites parties was not that I was forced to attend by any contractual obligation. There was no such thing for me, or, to my knowledge, for any of my fellow India players.
Each party was invariably the same routine. You would have a set-up with a ramp show that lasted 30 to 45 minutes, then the models would come off and mix with the rest and the party would take off.
There were cheerleaders and girls who we called ‘escort service’. Beautiful women to add glamour to the mix, get the party moving. They were not allowed to talk to any player for more than five minutes. If they did, a manager would walk up and slickly move her away.
But there were other women, willing and uninhibited. The big-name players who did attend generally handled themselves without a problem. They would hang around, chat, have a drink, pick up a happy girl, sometimes two, take her back to the hotel room and have some fun.
Watching some of our younger players, the u-19 and u-22 kids, though, was scary. They had never been exposed to Bollywood stars, Page 3 personalities, endless cigarettes (all free), flowing booze, occasionally drugs and always women, willing women, everywhere. The boys lapped it up, and would party right through. Those that didn’t drink or smoke did so to be part of the cool gang.
The pressure lay more in the occasional hint dropped by an IPL official, a sponsor or a franchise official that it would be good if I were there for a bit, that there were some people they would like me to meet. I am not Tendulkar or Dravid, I couldn’t say no, go back to my room and stay there and not be bothered.
So when you go back to the room to recover, you really don’t want to hang around there when the rest of the guys are going downstairs – the parties are always in the team hotels – and you don’t want to be called “boring”.
So you tell yourself, ‘I’ll go down for an hour’, only, it’s never an hour. Before you know it, it’s 4am and you’re heading back to your room, hurrying to pack up and head to another city, another game, another sponsor’s commitment (which are endless), another shoot possibly and yes, another party.
The problem is that you can never switch off mentally. Not on the field, not during the hours spent in airports when fans and the airport staff want an autograph, photograph or just a chat and not in the parties, where you’ll be introduced to important people who will listen to you and perhaps, be important contacts who will make money for you. It’s a choice and it’s tiring but it’s also business. You have to be switched on.
It takes a toll, when you play a game, party till 4am, pack and grab an hour’s sleep before heading for the airport and spend six to 12 hours travelling. Places like Jaipur and Chandigarh don’t have direct connections to everywhere else. That’s my most vivid memory of IPL, not the matches, not the parties but the endless travel and exhaustion – and next year, with 34 games more, it will only get worse. I didn’t even know if I really wanted to. It’s like this.
The IPL is intense; short bursts of highly charged games and then, nothing. There’s no period of introspection.
(As told to Heena Zuni Pandit. The player has chosen to remain anonymous.)