Long before a six became a DLF maximum or a catch was turned into a Karbonn Kamaal catch, and following cricket basically meant watching it live on television, the most romantic of all sports reached its lovers mainly through radio. Nearly four decades later, the voice of Christopher Martin-Jenkins is still loud and clear in one’s mind’s ear, as the gifted commentator described the last moments of the 1983 Cricket World Cup cricket final. One of the greatest upsets in sporting history, he said on the BBC World Service’s special cricket transmission, when Mohinder Amarnath trapped Michael Holding LBW. It certainly was. 

For the world’s second most populated country that had been starved of sporting glories on the global stage, the stunning triumph at Lord’s – India was the rank outsider in the tournament which the West Indies was expected to win for a third successive time – was an occasion to celebrate. It remains undoubtedly one of the turning points in the history of Indian sport. At a time when India is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its Independence, to look back at its achievements in sport is not a bad idea. That is what Chandresh Narayanan has tried to do in his book, Journey of a Nation: 75 Years of Indian Sports – Game, Guts, Glory. 

The book is a record – you would even get the score by which Pullela Gopichand defeated Ronald Susilo in the first round of the All-England Open Badminton Championships in 2001 – of India’s notable victories in sport. All the major, popular sports are covered. Not surprisingly, cricket has taken up a lot of pages, compared to other sports. For all the successes in other sports, especially of the last few years, cricket remains India’s favourite obsession. It is very well documented too, through books, newspapers and the internet.  

Rewinding cricket glories  

Still, when you go through this book, you get to rewind some of Indian cricket’s greatest moments, like the two World Cups (1983 and 2011), the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia, the 2007 World T20, and the Tied Test of 1986 with Australia in Chennai. Sachin Tendulkar’s two famous back-to-back ODI hundreds against Australia at Sharjah in 1998 have also been talked of at length. 

Those innings by Tendulkar, the drama in the Chennai Test and the almost flawless campaign by Sunil Gavaskar’s men Down Under in 1985 to win the WCC, could be familiar to most readers, but they may not know how the likes of Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi went on to win the World billiards championships. The many commendable feats by India’s wrestlers, shooters, weightlifters, as well as badminton and tennis players have also been documented. So is the glorious saga in hockey.  

Badminton, a truly popular and global sport in which India has had some outstanding achievements through exceptional players like Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Lakshya Sen, has been given the space it deserves. India’s triumph at the Thomas Cup in May is doubtless one of the biggest feats in the country’s sporting history. There is a chapter on it in the book. There should have been one on India’s incredible campaign at the 1987 Davis Cup, too. 

Tennis exploits  

How India reached the final of tennis’ World Cup of team events is one of the country’s most fascinating stories in sport. Vijay Amritraj’s comment -- “We have no business to be playing in the World Group final, wouldn’t you say?” -- after his teammate Ramesh Krishnan defeated Wally Masur, in the last match of the semifinal against defending champion Australia at Sydney, sums up India’s performance. While the book has vividly documented the exploits of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, those who served and volleyed before them, Ramanathan Krishnan, his son Ramesh and the Amritraj brothers, need to be acknowledged properly. 

Journey of a nation: 75 years of Indian sports Game, Guts, Glory
By Chandresh Narayanan 
Published: Rupa Publications 
Price: ₹405, Pages 318  

The strength of the book is still that it is a fairly comprehensive record of multiple sports. Even India’s famous near misses – like the fourth place at the Olympics by PT Usha (1984), Milkha Singh (1960), Dipa Karmakar (2016) and Aditi Ashok (2021) – have also been recorded. 

The book, a considerable part of which is sourced from websites and newspapers, gives the reader a reasonable account of India’s sporting history. It hardly is anything more; it would have read better with more analyses. Editing could have been better, too. 

(The reviewer is Sr Asst Editor Sports, The Hindu, Kozhikode) 

Check out the book on Amazon