Delhi’s Sonnet Club, which boasts the likes of Ashish Nehra and Shikhar Dhawan among its ranks, has been built on a bedrock of discipline, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY

This is an iconic club, a much-envied cricket institution that has produced first-class and international players with a distinct character. Tarak Sinha, coach of Sonnet Club, can’t really remember the number of players who have donned the Sonnet Club cap.From Raman Lamba to Ashish Nehra, the list of achievers has grown each season with Shikhar Dhawan being the latest to join that elite group.

After an impressive debut in the Young Boys tournament in 1967, Sonnet developed as a club with a reputation to play tough but fair cricket. K.P. Bhaskar, a noted batsman and now a coach, recalls, “I remember going to Ajmal Khan Park and preparing the pitch by picking the pebbles, rolling the stumps on the surface, watering it for the matting to be placed. In later years, the club shifted to DCM Mills ground, the Rajdhani College and now the Venkateswara College. At Ajmal Khan Park people were kind to us. They would vacate the area for us to practice. The monthly fee was a royal five rupees.”

Krishan Kaushik, a founder member, recalls, “We would struggle to have proper kit. The matting was transported on cycle by (coach-cum-player) Sharvan Kumar. It was a laborious exercise. Our pads and wicket-keeping gloves were often tattered and the neighbourhood cobbler at one point refused to mend them. Sonnet grew from such humble beginning.”

Discipline has been paramount in the rise of Sonnet Club. Reporting late for ‘nets’ can cost the player a place in the playing eleven. There have been instances when the star player has carried drinks for not making it in time to the ‘nets’. As Sinha explains, “At Sonnet, no one is a star or a celebrity. Yes, I will allow a batsman an extended session in the nets but not to the extent of denying someone his due. Late comers are marked and made to improve because I’ve always believed you have to respect time. It is the most precious possession for us.”

Sonnet achieved a stupendous distinction on May 1, 2012. Playing a pre-quarterfinal of the Laxman Dass tournament at the St Stephen’s college ground, it thrashed RCC Club, Gorakhpur by 405 runs. Sonnet made 440 for four in 40 overs and dismissed the opposition for 35 in 15.2 overs. “We have won many close contests, beaten strong oppositions. It has been a huge privilege to have worn the Sonnet cap. The club provided us a platform because there was no organised cricket structure in Delhi. NIS catered to rich kids mainly and Sonnet encouraged boys from middle and lower middle class,” says Atul Wassan, who made his first-class debut with the Ranji Trophy final in 1987.

Sonnet’s reputation can be gauged from the fact that it contributed seven players to the playing eleven in two Ranji trophy finals, in 1987 and 1990. In the 1991 final it had six players in the eleven and five (Nayyar, Lamba, Prabhakar, Bhaskar and Raj Kumar Sharma) in the 1989 squad which won the final at the Ferozeshah Kotla. “The club had a unique mix of competitive players, each high on motivation, whether in first-class or a local contest. There was immense pride in playing a club match. There was a fierce competition for places and we backed each other and knew that success for the club meant success for Delhi cricket because Sonnet gave players in big numbers in the age group teams too,” remembers Prabhakar.

Apart from Dhawan, Bhaskar and Nehra and Lamba, Surender Khanna, Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Sharma, Randhir Singh and Sanjeev Sharma have been some of the illustrious members of the club. The list of Sonnet Club students to have played first-class cricket is pretty long but names that stand out are Arun Khurana, Manu Nayyar, Raj Kumar Sharma, Baldev Gosain, Sanjay Bhardwaj, Rajindar Singh Dara, Davendar Sharma, K. B. Kala, Yusuf Ali Khan. An unsung member was Kamal Kumar ‘Sabu’, a strapping fast bowler with a superb natural out-swinger.

To play for Sonnet is considered a privilege. “Delhi cricket was enriched by the achievements of the Sonnet Club where we learnt to become great competitors. Every defeat was accepted gracefully and lessons learnt in earnest. Every Sonnet Club player was blessed to have learnt from Tarak Sir. We owe our good times to him and the club,” raved Nayyar. To learn and play cricket the right way, Sonnet is the club to be with.