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The kinship of cricket lovers

S Giridhar | Updated on July 21, 2021

Special note: The blurb for the book was written by VVS Laxman   -  KVS Giri

Such is the unspoken bond between fans of the gentleman’s game that a helping hand is extended unconditionally

* From Mumbai to Durban was a nostalgic recap of what, to our minds, were some of the most important cricket tests that India had played in from 1949 onwards

* Sunandan Lele, master of cryptic mails and a brand of humour all his own, replied, “friend that is because you and I have the same blood group — C Positive!”

* If the book is factually flawless, it is because of Sidhanta Patnaik

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There is something special about the bond among cricket lovers. Some kind of unseen, unspoken code that the hand of friendship and help shall be extended unconditionally by one cricket lover to another, even if they have never met or spoken with each other. Just how special is that?

My colleague VJ Raghunath and I published From Mumbai to Durban: India’s Greatest Tests in December 2016. The book was a nostalgic recap of what, to our minds, were some of the most important cricket tests that India had played in from 1949 onwards. My heart sings every time I think of the many cricket journalists who were there for us whenever we needed help with our book. Our acknowledgement page however was brief and inadequate. Never too late, let me now share in some detail, stories of these people’s generosity.

Sunandan Lele is a much respected Pune-based journalist who has followed cricket for decades. When I asked the chief editor of Wisden India, where we could get some ‘unique’ photographs to go with our stories of India’s great matches, he wrote a one-line introduction to Sunandan. I followed up with a more detailed mail explaining the kind of snaps we had in mind. Within a day, my inbox had 42MB of high quality photographs. These were truly special photos from his personal collection, taken on tours abroad with cricketers in rare mood. Stunned by his magnanimity, I asked him why would he do this for a person he does not even know. Sunandan, master of cryptic mails and a brand of humour all his own, replied, “friend that is because you and I have the same blood group — C Positive!”. It was left for me to decode C for cricket. I have never met Sunandan; we exchange greetings once a year. But does that matter at all?

And now to Clayton Murzello of Mid-Day in Mumbai — kind, gentle, large-hearted and a living library of the most exquisite cricket memorabilia. In a conversation with Sharda Ugra, the leading cricket writer — who so generously wrote the epilogue to our book — I mentioned that it would be good to get a cover page blurb from VVS Laxman. Sharda, ever supportive, advised me to seek Clayton’s help. I wrote to Clayton, he messaged Laxman and in a matter of weeks, VVS after reading through the manuscript gave us the blurb. When I tried to thank Clayton, one could see how acutely uncomfortable he was with my gratitude. Waving away my thanks, he proceeded to send me some vintage photographs from the 1970s. His only regret was that if some of the Sportweek archives had not been lost, he could have given us more. Raghu and I invited him to our book event in 2017. Clayton tried to make himself inconspicuous on the seventh row, but he is a much loved legend in Mumbai. A few words, a handshake and we have not met since then. Once in a while I compliment him on a piece he has written and he replies with a laconic ‘thank you’.

My friendship with Vijay Lokapally, who retired last year after a distinguished career with The Hindu, began some months after our book was launched. Given a copy by a friend, he liked it enough to interview Raghu and me for a piece in his paper. It was the start of a prolific WhatsApp friendship. Cricket exchanges certainly but also about our work at Azim Premji Foundation. A gentle soul, he yearns for the old times when cricket was played with less jingoistic fervour. So much so that he prefers watching domestic cricket. When he came to know that neither Raghu nor I had any social media presence, Vijay tweeted quite a few times about our book and the articles that we wrote. We haven’t met face to face and I wonder when that will be.

R Mohan was India’s leading cricket correspondent from 1979 for around two decades. Sparkling text combined with superb cricketing knowledge and a fine ability to get cricketers to talk to him, made his despatches almost the final word. In 2015, as part of our research for the book, Raghu met him. Mohan held nothing back, providing Raghu terrific details and insights that strengthened our book immeasurably. But the icing on the cake was the manner in which Mohan at the end of this meeting, casually walked to his bookshelf, picked up all the books of Bill Frindall, the legendary scorer and statistician, and gave them to Raghu. “You will need these. Return them only after you are done.” Precious books, collected painstakingly over years, were handed over to a cricket friend with the utmost trust and generosity.

Neither Raghu nor I have ever met or spoken to Professor Nandini Sardesai. When Raghu spoke to Rajdeep Sardesai about his father Dilip — hero of quite a few Tests — he asked him for some photos. Rajdeep asked us to contact his mother in Mumbai and gave us her address. Neither of us could visit Mumbai, so we asked a friend to visit her. And so, a complete stranger knocked at her door and Nandini Sardesai welcomed him in. Told about the request, she pointed him to all the framed photographs in the room and told him to scan any photograph that would help the book.

Many in my generation who followed cricket from the 1960s grew up reading Raju Bharatan’s treatises in The Illustrated Weekly of India. By 2016, he was the only living Indian journalist who had reported on cricket since 1952. When we were researching a Test that India won against Australia in 1964, we read that Bharatan had called a particular ball from spin wizard Chandrasekhar as the leg break of the century. Curious, we wrote to Bharatan. He was over 80, racing against time to finish his book on Asha Bhosle. Yet, in the midst of that, he was inordinately kind to send us a mail that began with the advice, “No happening in a game is to be viewed in isolation”, before going on to describe that ball in vivid detail. All from a razor sharp memory. Sadly, he has passed on, but cricket lovers of my generation remember Bharatan with affection.

There are many more of this ilk who should feature here but let me end with the person with whom I ought to have begun. My friend Sidhanta Patnaik passed away tragically young, two years ago. I met him for the first time after he wrote a review of our first book, Midwicket Tales in 2014 for Wisden India. Amidst a few kind words, he also pointed out some embarrassing factual and typographical errors. He had already had a surgery by then and could only speak using the voice synthesiser held to his throat. Grateful for a review that told us our mistakes, I requested him to edit the book before it went for its reprint. Sidhanta — I do not know a more meticulous editor than him — corrected more than 20 bloopers. Our book became so much the better for it, that Raghu and I insisted that he must edit our next book. In the midst of his work at Wisden, Sidhanta lovingly corrected our manuscript. If From Mumbai to Durban is factually flawless, it is because of Sidhanta. Even as his illness was becoming terminal, Sidhanta showed great courage and determination to bring out one of India’s finest cricket books along with co-author Karunya Keshav. The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India was published in December 2018. I visited Sidhanta to congratulate him; he was heartbreakingly frail but smiling and satisfied. I wanted to host his book reading at our University but even before we could finalise a date, Sidhanta had left us. We did the book event some months after his passing in a packed seminar hall with Karunya speaking for her friend. In the audience was Sidhanta’s wife. My eyes misted over as I introduced my friend in his absence.

S Giridhar is the Chief Operating Officer of Azim Premji University, and has co-authored cricket books with his colleague VJ Raghunath and written a book on India’s extraordinary teachers

Published on July 20, 2021

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