The World Cup is upon us, which makes it fertile season for books on cricket. In the past few weeks, I’ve had four couriered to me. Alas, only four (though I hear some more are in the pipeline), and only one on cricket’s blue riband tournament.
Compared to the proliferation of TV shows, videos, podcasts et al on the World Cup, this is measly and, lamentably, tells me where and how consumption of information is headed in the New Age.
Nothing quite captures the flavour and significance of a tournament like this than a solid, well-researched, incisive book. Perhaps this has to do with age, but I remain steadfastly loyal to the written word.
Happily, among the books I’ve received is Mihir Bose’s Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket. It’s not quite a treatise on the World Cup, but none the poorer for it as the subject matter is riveting.
India’s travails and triumphs in the once-every-four-years ODI tournament obviously feature in Nine Waves, but as subsets of the big picture, which is not just massive in scale and scope but also particularly pertinent given the country’s pre-eminent position in the sport today. The rise of India from a servile nation pandering to the whims, moods and demands of colonial masters to becoming the major-domo in cricket – in terms of money, spectatorship and ability – makes for a compelling story.
The growth of Indian cricket runs concurrently with the rise of India, from colonial serf to an independent nation to the current times of huge political and social upheavals.
This must necessarily layer the narrative with several intricate and intriguing dimensions that would be beyond the mien of a plain vanilla book on sport. I have always believed that sport and nationhood are strongly intertwined, and largely glossed over because of limitations of understanding, not importance
In the case of Indian cricket, the trajectory of this two-in-one story can neither be linear, nor smooth. You can’t drive through this saga in cruise control, uncaring of what else is happening in the environment. It’s a bumpy ride over a century and more, of crests and incredible triumphs (individuals and teams), interspersed with deep troughs, hairpin bends, setbacks and sundry other impediments along the way. Feudalism, sectarianism, parochialism, casteism, communalism, favouritism, corruption, political exigencies, all of which have left a distinct impact on India’s growth to nationhood, must find an echo in how cricket has evolved in the country too.
It’s a story that requires not just robust research but also engaging narration, and it helps that Bose is a polymath, having written 27 books on not just sport (football is his other major interest) but subjects as varied as those on the Aga Khans, the Memons, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bollywood. Cricket, however, remains his abiding passion, as I discovered when we first met in 1983 during the 1983 World Cup. Since both of us come from Mumbai – Bose moved to England in 1969 –, there was much common ground we discovered: of watching Test and first-class matches at the Brabourne Stadium, of yesteryear heroes like Pataudi, Durrani and Borde, who haunted the imagination of cricket lovers growing up in the 1960s.
Bose, of course, had the advantage of having been in school (same batch) as the redoubtable Sunil Gavaskar, of which he is justifiably proud, and uses the connection to not just quote him quite profusely but also get a cover blurb for the book.
What makes the book eminently readable is that though Bose is clearly scholarly, the approach is not academic. He brings his vast experience as a journalist to ferret out and to relate stories – some of them hearsay, but not refuted so far – and major inflection points in Indian cricket. The prose is easy on the ear.
Bose draws heavily from his seminal work, History of Indian Cricket, which was published in 1990 when India was touring England. Those who have read this book might find quite a lot of the stuff replayed but Bose has made relevant updates with the benefit of hindsight.
After an extended preamble relating how India got hooked to cricket, The Nine Waves deals broadly with the nearly nine decades since India got official entry into the comity of cricket playing nations (1932 at Lord’s was the first Test), and highlights virtually every milestone since. Unlike in The History Of Cricket, the structure of Nine Waves is like a vast condominium rather than a monolith. It is more snack than full course meal but does not deprive the reader of either vital information or flavour.
My favourite sections have to do with the earlier years of Indian cricket finding its feet through the stellar efforts of players like CK Nayudu, Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad and Mushtaq Ali, the first batch of superstars. These players actually laid the foundation for the sport to become the national obsession it is today. Alas, now remembered only through misty reminisces of old timers since our sense of recording history remains dismal.
I must end with the story about Merchant and Mushtaq Ali foiling the diabolical tactic of the Majarajah of Vizianagram (Vizzy as he was popularly known) to sow mistrust in the team that toured England in 1936.
Vizzy, whose cricketing credentials were zilch, had manipulated himself into the team captaincy. In the second Test at Old Trafford, India, bowled out for 203 in the first innings, had to score 368 to make England, who had scored 571-8, bat again. The openers were Merchant and Mushtaq.
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Vizzy had not taken kindly to criticism from Merchant about his cricketing and captaincy abilities and — using the communal card — warned Mushtaq, who had been run out in the first innings, to do the same to Merchant this time. Mushtaq, sensing Vizzy’s motives, spoke to Merchant about what the captain had told him. The two decided that come what may, they would ensure against either getting run out. As it happened, they put on 203 runs for the first wicket, a record which stood till 1964.
Almost 75 years later, this episode remains instructive for Indian cricket and India.
Ayaz Memon is a senior sports analyst.
May 31, 2019 17:32 IST
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