Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Cricket’s Background Music

As most Indian kid growing up in the ‘90s did, I grew up being a cricket fan. There was a lot of revering of them stars, a lot of mimicking those bowling actions, a lot of friendship forged or broken depending on whether or not you liked a player/team. Up until my early-teens or so, it was just following the upper crust of cricket – the international scene. And then, slowly the interest sunk deeper, to the domestic set up. There would be swift turning to the last page of The Hindu, and flipping open the last leaf and scan the near-ignored black and white corner of the page- “Ranji Trophy” updates. All the scores in 4 to 5 inches of column space and a brief report on Tamil Nadu’s bitter-sweet success.

After many years (since) of following domestic cricket, I finally chanced upon being at a game when I was in Baroda in the winter of 2011. Haryana were visiting us/Baroda. The magnificent Motibaug Stadium was the theatre. I had since witnessed a few games there, and noticed a good interest from the local crowd, which engaged themselves with the game and the players at a very deep level. The fan following at the domestic level was good to watch. We would find people who would talk about teams from the past, the visiting teams that gave Baroda a tough time and of course the future (read as “selection game”). It was also around the same time when I started to develop a decent reading habit, and most of the books are on cricket. In this article, I will write a bit about a couple of books that took me closer to the domestic scene.

THIRD MAN, by V. Ramnarayan.

Ramnarayan played for Hyderabad in the golden era that preceded the Mohammad Azharuddin period of Indian cricket, moving to the city from Madras/Chennai. He documents the scene of South Indian collegiate, club and the larger domestic cricket in the book. The names that flow through the pages of the book leave you breathless. There is a chapter on the players in the Hyderabad team he played with. Some of the names – ML Jaisimha, MAK Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig, Syed Abid Ali – make you feel that that Hyderabad era had arguably the most aesthetic team in Indian cricket history.
There are other names of players who graced the domestic circuit and made competition for the Indian berth that much tougher. Ramnarayan, being a spinner himself, talks in length about the greatness of those spin wizards. S. Ventaraghavan, Erapalli Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar, VV Kumar, Noshir Mehta etc. He tells such a well scripted story of the game behind the veil of international cricket, about the hard work that it takes to reach and stay there. It makes you fall in love with that place in cricket that isn’t touched upon enough in literature.

A CORNER OF A FOREIGN FIELD, by Ramachandra Guha

While Ramnarayan’s book would rob you of your breath, Guha’s would make you sweat. A Corner of a Foreign Field is the melting pot of all things Indian cricket. Guha condenses tons of history into one book that will burn in your pockets until you finish it from cover to cover, a fitting testimonial to his capability as a wonderful historian. The book takes you to the 19th century and early 20th century to start, through the British Raj in the Bombay-Poona belt, how Englishmen and Indians both played cricket – first, separately, then against each other, and later with each other. The cricket also showed how the caste system seeped into cricket and how cricket rose above that. “India’s first cricket hero” – Palwankar Baloo – is among the earliest subject the book follows. He was a Dalit whose tale ran parallel with the social and cricket picture of the times. The story is all so very beautifully told. The Baloo brothers are the first family of cricket.

The book then talks about the famous Triangular tournament of Bombay, which later expanded into Quadrangular and Pentangular. At that stage, it was part communal, part political but whole cricket. The following of those games was huge, pan-India. Kings and traders would vie for a spot in the team(s), and took great pride in the victories. Many thrilling matches were recorded in the chronicles of those tournaments, and needed the author to be extracted from old newspapers, telegrams, letters and also by word of mouth. It is hard work, which you can see by glancing at the references at the end of the book.
The book then goes through the times of Freedom struggle - the commencement of Ranji Trophy and fall of the Pentangular. The change was needed, or atleast as per the political image of the times, to shape the people’s thoughts away from religion based divisions. It had its own pros and cons. But the Bombay Tri/Quad/Pentangular Tournament teaches you, through cricket, how the Indian society changed from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. It talks in lengths about the European, Parsi, Hindu, Muslim and ‘The Rest’ teams and players that made the tournament that it is now – the foundation to Indian cricket. The book educates you about Indian cricket, and in the classical way that a book leaves you to imagination you recreate all those glorious matches in your head. It is beautiful. The sheer quality of the collection, the anecdotes, the names, and the stories compiled into one book will indulge you.


Makarand Waingankar wrote a book on Mumbai cricket – A Million Broken Windows – that has profiles of many names and games, and the stature of Mumbai Cricket from then to now. Aakash Chopra has written two books on his days with the Ranji winning Rajasthan state cricket team – Beyond the Blues and Out of the Blue. But, I haven’t found much more than them. How did cricket fare in the Victorian East? How did Rajasthan become a strong force in the ‘60s? There is a lot to write and read, such is the vastness of Indian cricket and its history.

Image courtesy flipkart.com