Cricket needs no introduction in India, and countless books have been written on this sport that has the power to halt the nation. And yet, here comes a collection of write-ups on the game that takes fans down memory lane but still offers something new. Ayaz Memon, who is probably one of India’s foremost sports commentators, puts together various articles on the game of cricket in India, tracing the game from the Seventies. This was the time when Indian cricket reached its peak with victories in the West Indies and England. The author includes several articles that were published in various newspapers and magazines in the past, thus giving readers detailed perspective of the game that otherwise might be difficult to obtain from casual conversations or web searches. The second set of articles is by some distinguished names and tracks the game in contemporary times and cricketers such as Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.
So, if the book includes recollections of Sunil Gavaskar who played the game, to Harsha Bhogle who has been a commentator for three decades, it also has perceptive views by eloquent writers Shashi Tharoor and Ramachandra Guha.
If one recollects the drubbing India got in 1974 in England with the infamous ‘42 all out’ at Lords, one can read what Khalid Ansari, then editor of the now defunct Sportsweek, had to say.
Today, of course, the game is very commercial but, in the past, it was not so. Sportspersons played the game for the pleasure of it and names like Gundappa Vishwanath come to mind who enjoyed cricket and never bothered about the outcome. Ramachandra Guha has an appreciative piece about him that many followers of the game in those days would identify with.
Another issue is the existence of politics in cricket. Today, we tend to talk about how cricketers are selected and how captains, coaches and managers are appointed, which are not always based on merit. But this was the case even five decades ago when things were dictated from the top. Clearly, the tendency for extraneous elements to intervene in team selection is a part of our DNA and nothing much has changed.
The matches that have been covered in the book are a combination of ones where India won and also lost, though the focus is more on the former, which in a way is good as it is inspiring reading. Some controversial issues like the betting incident have also been covered, which will give readers some idea of the darker sides of Indian cricket. The monkey-gate controversy, too, is included, which was another pressure point in our cricket history.
Memon has earmarked a separate section for the famous Ranji Trophy, which today is almost forgotten by fans and players alike. It was a prime tournament that also brought the game into the public domain, giving the regional public access to the game and when the stadia used to be filled even for league matches. Now it has been upstaged fully by the IPL, which has become an annual feature few miss.
The book includes at the end a speech made by Sanjay Manjrekar that is quite touching as he talks about how in the past, which is the Nineties, batsmen were scared of fast bowlers and would rather not face them. Things changed after Sourav Ganguly and company took over, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni changing the confidence with which we played. He also laments how no one wants to play Test cricket anymore, and how the Board, too, looks more at the shorter version of the game.
Some things stand out as one goes through these articles. Most cricket writers tend to be quite extravagant in their language and there is a lot of imagery that is brought into the writing about the state of the match and the climatic conditions. This has not changed, and for over five decades writers appear to have a predilection to exaggerate as they pump their pieces with emotion and passion.
There are some authors like Shobhaa De whose pieces look out of place in a serious book on cricket. But one can say it is the editor’s prerogative. The first chapter, titled ‘Pitching Stumps’ is his initiation into cricket, which is quite charming. He also includes his comments at the end of each chapter that prove quite interesting. He mentions in the beginning that, “an oft-propagated theory is that sports journalists are failed sportspersons living out their thwarted dreams and ambition second hand, so to speak.”
But rather unassumingly he follows this up with, “I don’t know”. The book can only be described as absolutely delightful and a must-read for anyone who loves Indian cricket.
Madan Sabnavis is chief economist of Bank of Baroda
Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947Ayaz MemonWestlandPp 404, Rs 899