Suresh Menon, Editor, Wisden India Almanack, recently reviewed journalist and author Mihir Bose's book The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket. In his review in Outlook, Menon wrote, “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 Time sand Daily Telegraph was 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.”
In another para, Menon says, “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.”
Below is Bose's repoly to the book review:
- He says I describe Bengaluru as an outpost of cricket. I am reporting what Rahul Dravid said. What I wrote was, “When he (Dravid) met young cricketers from Mumbai he was made aware of, as he puts it, that he “was simply a big fish in a small pond called Bengaluru”. He also says I compared Greg Chappell’s ousting of Sourav Ganguly to “the political assassination of Subhas Bose by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1930s.” I did not. To quote what I wrote. “Ganguly’s fans were outraged, and the ones in Bengal saw this as a sporting replay of the political assassination of Mahatma Gandhi back in the 1930s”. This was something that was widely reported at that time in the Kolkata media. I did not say I shared that view. I merely reported. Surely Menon knows the difference.
- Perhaps his most amazing charge against me is that I had covered up my lack of historical research by telling breezy stories. He gives two examples. One is the story of Nawab of Pataudi’s mother allegedly intervening to persuade Nehru to appoint her son ahead of Chandu Borde as captain of India. Pataudi and his mother are long dead. The only person alive is Borde to whom I spoke. Menon in his review does not mention I spoke to Borde who told me how he had been told by a selector he was captain, celebrated and then learnt that Pataudi had been chosen. Since I could not possibly have spoken to Pataudi or his mother, let alone Nehru, how does Suresh Menon suggest I should have further researched this story?
- Much the same point arises in the other story which he gives as an example of my lack of historical research. This is the one about Vijay Merchant making an alleged call to the Kathiawar captain asking him to concede a match so that BB Nimbalkar who was 443 not out would not go past Bradman’s 452 not out then the highest individual score in first class cricket. Menon does not mention that I make it clear the source for my story was Nimbalkar. A television recording of Nimbalkar’s claim is also available. Merchant and the Kathiawar captain are long dead so there is no way of getting their version. The question here was of Merchant never forgetting those who had crossed his path. It is interesting that in an essay on Pataudi in Wisden India 2013 the writer describing why Merchant sacked Pataudi as captain in 1971 says, “Many people believed this was his way of setting an old score with Tiger’s father, the senior Nawab of Pataudi who had led India to England in 1946 when Merchant himself nursed such an ambition.” In my opinion it was perfectly legitimate for the writer to make this observation and Suresh Menon must have approved as he edits the Wisden India Almanack. So why is it not legitimate for me to do so?
- As for the book being a twice told tale, it certainly has Indian cricket history from 1932 some of which I narrated in my History of Indian Cricket first published in 1990 but even those sections have been extensively updated with new material having emerged and Nine Waves begins with a chapter on Dhoni winning the T20 World Cup in 2007. When I wrote my previous history T20 had not even been conceived. Nine Waves also has extensive chapters on Dhoni’s upbringing, an unlikely hero emerging from what was then more famous for its mental asylums, Kohli, the IPL, including the first interview after his fall given by Lalit Modi, and how and why Indian cricket, having been the pariah of world cricket, has now become the top dog.
- Menon has also misquoted my previous History of Indian Cricket. I did not theorise “that India produced quality left handers because of their manner of cleaning themselves in the toilet with their left hand”. In fact I discussed the exact opposite, why India does not produce many left handers. The context here was I was discussing with Subhas Gupte why he had such problems when bowling to Neil Harvey, the Australian left hander in the 1956 Test series. Gupte told me this was because in Indian cricket he had little practise against left handers. It was then that I wrote, “One can speculate at the dearth of left handers”. I then went on to mention a hard fact which was “that, at least amongst Hindus, the left hand is considered ‘dirty’.” My mother even in her old age never stopped rebuking me if I gave her anything with my left hand and forced me to give it to her with the right hand. As can be seen I had clearly identified that I was indulging in speculation to explain an issue which has baffled cricket historians all over the world.
- He also misrepresents my argument that football could have become India’s national sport after independence. Football was promoted by Vivekanda who advised Indians that “You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita”. I pointed out that in the colonial era football had been a metaphor for an India v Britain sporting clash as symbolised in the 1911 Mohun Bagan v East Yorkshire regiment match when there was no such comparable India v England cricket match from the days when the British ruled India. It is in this context that I suggested that had there been a violent, revolutionary, overthrow of the British as proposed by Subhas Bose, rather than a negotiated transfer of power then, as in many other colonial countries, football would have been the dominant sport. Certainly in 1947 football was more popular than cricket and in 1950 India even qualified for the football World Cup, when at that stage India had not even won a Test match.
- Menon also does not mention that in my Nine Waves I devote a whole chapter to discussing how Nehru by keeping India in the Commonwealth also ensured India retained its cricket status. This is because the rules of the Imperial Cricket Conference, then the game’s governing body, specified that a country had to be a member of the Commonwealth to be a member of the ICC. Had India left the Commonwealth then it is almost certain the ICC would have turfed India out of world cricket. Of course, Nehru had wider political ’s reasons in making his decision. Cricket played no part in it. But Indian cricket enjoyed the collateral benefit from his decision, a decision that was opposed by Sardar Patel and would almost certainly have been opposed by Subhas Bose had he been around.
These are perfectly valid historical issues to discuss and are not audacious socio-historical claims. History would be very boring if authors do not raise such issues and consider the various possibilities.