The English language and the game of cricket are arguably two of the greatest legacies left by nearly two centuries of colonial rule in India. While the practical knowledge and command of the language of British rulers helped many Indians find opportunities abroad for study and livelihood, the sport they invented for recreation during their months of Summer has grown in popularity in the years since their departure. While Indian cricket came of age in the early 1970s following Test Series victories in the West Indies and England, it was World Cup victory in 1983 that made it a true national sport. It quickly eclipsed field hockey, which was even otherwise in decline, and rose to number one both in terms of the number of people following it and its reach over the full length and breadth of its history. a great nation.
Cricket is a unique sport in that it has provided the world with a rich literature. No other sports discipline comes close to cricket in this regard. This could be attributed to the sport’s ‘English’ origins or to the fact that it was played over five or more days during its initial stages, which offered those with literary prowess the opportunity to contribute with words, enriching thus the game. Thus, starting with Neville Cardus, there is a long line of distinguished writers whose pens have graced both language and sport through their works. Another interesting fact is that even authors with a distinct leaning towards Marxist ideals, like CLR James, chose to grace this most colonial sporting activity of all through their writings!
It can be said with absolute certainty and a total lack of humility that India is today the financial powerhouse that controls the game. We have taken over the role that was played by England, and later by this country with Australia, not only by controlling the conduct of the affairs of the International Cricket Council, but by deciding the sport’s international calendar. Today we have men’s, women’s and even junior national teams that rank among the top three in the world. Our cricketers are the biggest moneymakers in the game today, a fact appreciated by bodies set up to manage the game in other countries.
Along with this, the literature on cricket in India has also flourished, although it is doubtful whether this aspect has gained due attention and appreciation. Beginning with reports filed for matches in the days leading up to the live broadcast of matches, it has evolved into in-depth studies of the sport’s impact on society and the changes it has brought about. Renowned scholars such as Ramachandra Guha have written brilliant books on the subject, as have other top writers who follow the game closely. Hence, it is only in the aptness of time that an anthology of the best Indian writings on cricket has been put together. The book “Indian Innings – The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947”, edited by Ayaz Memon, and released a few months ago, admirably fills this gap.
The anthology consists of seven sections, the first five dealing with the different periods from 1947 to 2015. Writing on the subject was sparse during the pre-1970 phase, as evidenced by the fact that there are only two items in this section. The next section covers the two decades since 1970, while the next covers the last decade of the 20th century and India’s incredible victory over the Australians in Kolkata in 2001. The fourth and fifth segments cover the decade from 2001 to 2011 and the five years respectively since. The last two sections present domestic cricket and the period since 2015, until India’s victory in Brisbane in January 2021.
All of the leading writers on cricket are featured in the anthology, starting with legendary figures such as Rajan Bala and Raju Bharatan to players turned commentators and columnists including Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar. There are pieces from Shashi Tharoor, Guha, Shobha De, Chidanand Rajghatta and Mukul Kesavan – people renowned for their expertise in areas other than cricket but passionate about the game. All the great moments of Indian cricket are captured with gripping details by journalists present at the places where the story was written. Women’s cricket is also covered, as are other areas such as administrators, pitches, etc. In short, this work is close to being a complete story. gambling in India from 1971.
In such an exquisite feast of literary delights, it is difficult to choose one article as the best or even to choose a few as better than the others. Each of the pieces in the book are exceptional articles written to perfection by veteran practitioners of this art. Therefore, comparisons are not only unwarranted, but also tend to be useless exercises. But a few articles deserve special mention if only for the circumstances in which they were written.
The first of these is that of Shashi Tharoor entitled “Sunil Gavaskar as the embodiment of independent India”. In January 1985, the cover story of the popular magazine “Illustrated Weekly of India” with the headline “Out: Is he the worst captain in India’s history?” was written by Tharoor and focused on Gavaskar’s leadership skills or lack thereof. In this story, Tharoor heavily criticized Gavaskar for the way he led the team in the third Test of the series against England in Kolkata. While it was true that Gavaskar had a love-hate relationship with the Eden Gardens crowd and his captaincy in that match left a lot to be desired, he was extremely uncharitable of the club in the same league as Maharajkumar from Vizianagaram (Vizzy) and Dattu Gaekwad regarding leadership skills. Gavaskar got the last laugh when he led India to triumph at the World Cricket Championship held in Australia within two months after which he quit in style. Tharoor has attempted, through his article in the anthology, to make amends for his 1985 lyrics, although it is unclear whether Gavaskar will be prepared to forgive him completely for the rather inconsiderate criticism.
The other article deserving of special mention is titled “You Gotta Feel For Them” written by Mid-Day sportswriter Clayton Murzello in June 2020. It was written by Murzello upon hearing of the death of Rajinder Goel, the biggest spin bowler of not playing for India, despite a total of 637 first-class cricket scalps. The article covers the careers of some other players equally unhappy not to have won the green light from national coaches or to have been treated crummy despite putting their heart and soul into the game Our hearts go out to those who weren’t able to secure opportunities at the highest level despite the talent and weight of performance behind them. It’s a tribute to those brave hearts that they took disappointments in their stride and moved on in life.
I recommend the anthology “Indian Innings – The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947” to all followers of this sport who wish to understand the history of the game and its evolution in our country. This book will add to the luster of any bibliophile’s collection, as well as being a ready-to-use reference document for students of this popular sport.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and senior civil servant)