Many are the joys of cricket. Among the least-talked about of them is the pleasure to be had from reading on cricket.

Not surprisingly, some of the greatest writing on cricket has appeared in books. But you could find fine prose on the sports pages of a newspaper too, in match reports, columns by former players, analyses, features...

From the time Indian newspapers started sending reporters to cover this most romantic and fascinating of all games, there has been a lot of quality writing on Indian cricket. With his latest book, seasoned journalist Ayaz Memon has done a commendable job by coming up with an anthology of Indian writing on cricket.

Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947  is an informative book for any cricket fan. For a fan who enjoys reading on cricket, it is a delight.

From up close

The book offers several insights, from up close, into Indian cricket of the last seven decades. These insights are particularly fascinating because many of the reports and features were written without the benefit of hindsight.

A newspaper report is unlike the account of a historian who writes about an event years or decades after it happened, often depending on secondary sources. The reporter could be the first historian of an event. Indian Innings... is replete with reports of almost every major event in Indian cricket since Independence.

But it is much more than a collection of reports by cricket correspondents. So, you have an essay on Sunil Gavaskar by Shashi Tharoor, who makes amends for a magazine cover story he had earlier written wondering if Gavaskar was the worst captain India has ever had; Ramachandra Guha dwelling on cricket in Karnataka and Bengal (two States he has close association with) and Mukul Kesavan and Prithi Narayanan, R. Ashwin’s wife, writing on the third and fourth Tests respectively in that incredible series in Australia.

If Tharoor’s profile of Gavaskar is a reminder of the superb writer that the Thiruvananthapuram MP is ( All babies look like a cross between Winston Churchill and ET ...), Kesavan does justice to arguably the greatest Test victory of all time (India v Australia, Brisbane, January 2021) when he says  Deprivation out of Dickens met magic out of Marquez and derring-do out of Wodehouse’s schoolboy stories to make a Test match for the ages. 

Stunning victory

Before that stunning victory at Brisbane, India had snatched an almost as stunning a draw at Sydney, thanks in no small measure to an unbeaten 39 off 128 balls by an injured Ashwin, who, Prithi reveals, could not even get up after sitting. His four-year-old daughter advised him to take leave (from the final day of the Test).

Anecdotes like this abound in  Indian Innings ... Like the particularly delectable one about Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi by Makarand Waingankar. India’s youngest ever captain once hid legendary British cricket reporter John Woodcock’s copy of  Wisden. The Times  correspondent complained loudly at the press box: “I have lost my Wisden,” prompting Pataudi to say, “John, the way you are making such a big noise I thought you lost wisdom.”

Among the best reads in the book is the profile of Pataudi’s teammate B.S. Chandrasekhar by Suresh Menon ( Chandra's directions are a commentary on the state of the roads in Bangalore. “Turn left at the coffee shop,” he tells me, and then, “drive on till you come to a huge pothole. Try not to fall in as you turn right...”).

One had the pleasure of reading it when it was first published four years ago. There are some other pieces – especially those appeared in the last few years – that you may have read already, but there is plenty of excellent stuff that you may not have. Like the beautiful profile David McMahon penned on Sachin Tendulkar in 1992 in Australia’s  The Sunday Age .

Apologetic Tendulkar

He writes:  You can just picture the scene if he surpasses Gavaskar’s tally of 10,122 runs and 35 (sic) centuries. Tendulkar would be the first to arrive on the great man’s doorstep, wringing his hands in consternation to say, I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Gavaskar.  The reference is to Tendulkar apologising to Australian left-arm pacer Mike Whitney on reaching hundred, right after being bowled off a no-ball during a game in 1990.

There is a bit of black humour in the book, too. Sample this, from Raj Singh Dungapur, former BCCI president, national selector and Indian team manager: ...I also saw Sunil Gavaskar make 36 in 60 overs. I was a national selector then and I took my first sleeping pill that night.

Talking of Gavaskar, there is this interesting passage from KN Prabhu’s report on India’s tour of the West Indies in 1971:  India can take pride in the fact that they have found an opening batsman of sterling quality in Sunil Gavaskar. Here is a batsman equipped with the strokes and the natural gifts that should take him to the top .

Humour shines brightly in Mudar Patherya’s piece on the spectators at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens. Elsewhere, Guha talks of two Englishmen, A.L. Hosie and T.C. Longfield, playing for Bengal in pre-Independence days, being rechristened by the adoring Eden spectators as Amrit Lal and Tulsi Charan, respectively.

Humour and candour

Aside from humour, you would also find plenty of candour, from the likes of former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar, now a commentator who airs strong views with conviction, and Bishan Singh Bedi, the spin legend who never minces words.

Pieces by Khalid Ansari, Prem Panicker, Tunku Varadarajan, R. Mohan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Aniruddha Bahal, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Dicky Rutnagar, Ashis Ray, Anil Dharker, Austin Coutinho, Sharda Ugra, Dilip D’Souza, Chidanand Rajghatta, Sreeram Veera, Vivek Kamath, Anindya Dutta, Kunal Pradhan, Clayton Murzello and G.S. Vivek, among others, take us through an eminently enjoyable ride through many memorable moments in Indian cricket.

The author has done the right thing by placing the articles in a chronological order. That turns the book into a kind of a history book too, with accent less on academics and more on readability. You may find more comprehensive and well-researched books on the history of Indian cricket, but you may not come across too many that would speak in voices as diverse and as engagingly.

Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947
  • Edited by Ayaz Memon
  • Published by Westland Sport
  • 581 pages; Rs 585

Check out the book on Amazon

(The reviewer is a Senior Assistant Editor, Sports, The Hindu)