This is the season for cricket books. It’s always hard to decide between them. But I have a simple criterion: they must give pleasure and provide insights.
The three books described here, which you should read, meet these criteria. One is by Venkat Sundaram and another by Amrit Mathur. Sundaram played for Delhi and North Zone. Mathur managed the Indian team. and WV Raman who played for Tamil Nadu and India.
Sundaram and Raman opened the batting. Both were left handed. But while Raman was more circumspect, Sundaram could be quite hung-ho from the word go. It was he who pioneered sweeping fast bowlers. I have seen him do it. There was hardly any protective gear then. Fortunately, he is still around in one piece.
Raman’s book is co-authored by R Kaushik whose knowledge of cricket is encyclopaedic. He was the Editor of Wisden India. That lends the book gravitas.
Sundaram has put together a collection of essays. There are 47 of them including one by Shashi Tharoor and one by VK Ramaswamy, the umpire. He could have included three more to make the collection a round 50.
That said, it is a real pleasure to see now forgotten names like Michael Dalvi, VV Kumar, Milind Rege, AG Satvinder Singh, Yajurvindra Singh and others in these pages.
Raman and Kaushik’s book is about Indian cricket between 1983 and 2023. They describe the changes during that time perfectly.
In the context of change, however, it is Venkat’s chapter in his book that struck me as being really important. For some reason Raman and Kaushik have not dealt with it.
But before we come to that, there’s something that has never been recognised and to which Raman and Kaushik draw our attention. These are two literally game changing contributions by two great Indian cricketers.
One of them is K Srikkanth. He is the grandfather of Bazball, or hit it regardless. Mark Greatbatch of New Zealand used it with huge success in the 1992 World Cup. Later Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana of Sri Lanka would do it in the 1996 World Cup. But it was Srikkanth who started it.
The other is Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. He is the grandfather of the idea that spin works in all forms of cricket, not just Test matches.
Srikkanth and Sivaramakrishnan both owe their successes to the same man: Sunil Gavaskar. It was he who, as captain of the 1985 team, let Srikkanth play his natural game and again it was he who, via Sivaramakrishnan, demonstrated that spin in ODIs was totally effective.
His logic for taking Sivaramakrishnan to Australia in 1985 was brilliant. He wouldn’t go for too many runs, Gavaskar told the selectors, because Australian grounds were huge. His instinct and insight led to India winning the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket Cup.
It’s the wicket, stupid
Venkat, sadly, never got to play for India. The opening slots in the 1970s were occupied by Gavaskar at one end and a string of other Bombay players at the other like Ramnath Parkar, Ashok Mankad and one of two others.
Sundaram says people forget that there are three players in the contest: batman, bowler and the pitch. (There’s one more to which I will come later.) He was twice head of the BCCI’s pitches committee. It’s a fascinating story that he tells.
The whole effort was to wean Indian players from those old slow, dusty and spinning wickets to green, bouncy and quick ones. In this Venkat’s initiatives have succeeded in full measure.
It wasn’t easy but eventually he managed to convince the BCCI of the need to improve the outfields and the wickets. It’s as lasting a contribution as a handful of match winning centuries.
Mathur, whom I know slightly, played at the university level and then joined the Railways where the Minister, Madhavrao Scindia, made him open at the Sunday matches. He soon earned Scindia’s confidence and was appointed the manager of the Indian team that toured South Africa. Scindia was the BCCI President then.
Mathur thus entered cricket administration and served there for nearly three decades. His book is full of anecdotes about the long road Indian cricket has travelled since 1983.
Apart from the scores of stories he has to tell, there’s one little section that stands out. It’s to do with balls, which are the fourth player in the game. Ball selection before the match starts is critical, says Mathur and tells us how the Indian team used to do it.
Balance and seam height have to be absolutely perfect. The umpires hand over 12 balls to the fielding team to choose from.
In Mathur’s time, it was Sachin who chose first. He would check it for balance. Not even the slightest wobble was permitted by him. Then came the turn of the bowlers, pacers first and spinners last.
Check it out on Amazon.
Check it out on Amazon.
Check it out on Amazon.