Alexander Pope, the 17thcentury English poet, has written about the tedium of the twice-told tale. Mihir Bose’s second book on the history of Indian cricket is a journalist’s rather than a historian’s take on the eight decades from C K Nayudu to Virat Kohli. It has allowed him a greater latitude in dealing with the rumours and innuendos that have accompanied the game – and recording these without the pressure of having to ensure historical accuracy.
Did Tiger Pataudi’s mother really write to Prime Minister Nehru asking that her son ought to be made captain ahead of Chandu Borde because he “belonged to a minority community”? Did Vijay Merchant really call the Kathiawar captain and ask him to concede the match, thus denying the Maharashtra batsman B B Nimbalkar, then batting on 443 a chance to overtake Don Bradman’s world record of 452? Bose tells us these stories in a spirt of take-it-or-leave-it. To authenticate is the reader’s responsibility.
The lite version of Bose’s earlier tome is chattier, gossipy, anecdotal and joins the dots in a slightly different way, although the narrative is chronological and repeats some stories. The author who worked for UK’s Sunday Timesand Daily Telegraphwas also BBC’s first sports editor.
Yet the achievement he seems to place above all is the fact that he “went to school in Mumbai with Sunil Gavaskar.” In chapter two, he talks of his “Jesuit school in Mumbai, also the school of Sunil Gavaskar”. On page 99 is the reminder, “In my Jesuit school, which as I have mentioned is also Gavaskar’s…” On page 128, he says, “I knew him better than most, for as I have mentioned, I was at school with Gavaskar in St Xavier’s, in Mumbai”. A few pages later, talking of the Tendulkar-Kambli schools record, he says it was made against St Xavier’s, “Gavaskar’s and my old school.” Bose also tells us more than once that Sourav Ganguly always addressed him respectfully as “Mihir-da”. His editors have been unkind to him in other ways too.
Was Vijay Merchant responsible for denying a batsman the chance to overtake Bradman’s world record? To authenticate such breezily told tales is the reader’s responsibility.
The first Parsee tour of England was in 1886, not in 1866. Sunil Gavaskar’s farewell match (and century) at Lord’s was in 1987, not 1986. Sachin Tendulkar was trying to score his 100thinternational century, not Test century. Both Roger Binny and his son Stuart have played Tests for India, but they are not the only Anglo-Indians to have done so. David Johnson played two Tests too. Gavaskar is not the fourth Indian to have been in Wisden’s Five Cricketers. If C K Nayudu is taken as the first, he is the fifth. It was not just in “those days” (when Nayudu was honoured) that it was only a one-time honour. It is that way these days too.
Mostly Bose meshes well the personal and the historical, and the fact that he has been following Indian cricket for over six decades grants him an easy familiarity with the dramatis personae. He watched his first Test as a five-year old from the terrace of a house overlooking the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. It was symbolic of the manner in which he has been viewing Indian cricket ever since – from a heightened perspective which brought into his line of vision elements beyond the game itself.
Yet Bengalureans might object to his characterising their city as an “outpost of cricket” where Rahul Dravid grew up. Only Mumbai have won the Ranji Trophy more often than Karnataka, and players from V Subramanya, Erapalli Prassana, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Gundappa Viswanath to Kirmani and Dravid and Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and K L Rahul will all have something to say about that statement.
Dramatic statements have been a Bose staple. In his previous book, he theorised that India produced quality left handers because of their manner of cleaning themselves in the toilet with their left hand. Had Subhas Chandra Bose rather than Jawaharlal Nehru been the first Prime Minister, he said, football, not cricket, would have been India’s main sport. Here he compares coach Greg Chappell’s dissing of skipper Ganguly to “the political assassination of Subhas Bose by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1930s.”
Perhaps the canvas was too large and the palette deliberately limited. More has happened in Indian cricket in the last thirty years (since Tendulkar made his debut) than in the half century and more before. To combine the two eras in one volume is a challenge, however easy the writing style and however fascinating the narration. For in that period the centre of world cricket has shifted to India. The money is here, the players are here, the fans are here, and the richest tournament, the IPL, is here.
Bose’s offering necessarily favours width over depth, and while it is a good introduction, it leaves the reader wanting more.
(Suresh Menon is editor, Wisden India Almanack)