One of the books I picked up from Premier [from its dwindling collection] was the latest edition of Ram Guha's books on cricket. I have read quite a bit of Ram's writings and have immensely liked his essays. His biography of Verrier Elwin is a brilliantly researched piece. Ram stands out not only as a writer of great calibre, but also belongs to the rare tribe that makes a living out of writing. What is amazing about Ram is that his writing defies classification - it cannot be termed journalistic, certainly not fiction, not the usual columns written by famous personalities moonlighting for a hobby. He is a serious researcher, writing on history, cricket and personalities, all blended out of both hard evidence and a great deal of anecdotes. Ram therefore stands out as somone very unique.
You would see him occasionally on the television channel talking about a host of things or writing a piece here or there. He is one of the unique writers who has any scholarly writer's dream publishers like Oxford, and Permanent Black, not the Penguins [but yes, Picador]. When it comes to his writing on Ecology, Environment and History - Ram towers in the list of scholars, and he is equally at ease being as scholarly about cricket.
This blend of his fascination for history and also his love for the game makes his writings on cricket very fascinating. When I was managing the seminars series at IIM, I had invited him to deliver the Tirath Gupta Memorial Lecture, and Ram had delivered a fascinating talk on "How much should a person consume". Using the opportunity of his presence I asked him if he would be willing to interact with some students as cricket, in any case is a religion not only in the country, but also on the campus. IIMA alumni are constantly talking about their cricket mascot Harsha Bhogle - a cricket commentator par excellence. But here was an opportunity to interact with a graduate from the other IIM - the one at Kolkata - that had produced its cricket "Scholar". Ram readily agreed. We thought it would be a good idea to send a special invitation to a handful of exchange students - mostly from the soccer crazy Europe to be present so that they could get a taste of Indian culture. However, I guess Ram knew better - he had interacted with numerous students and academics and am sure had figured out that the international students would not enjoy his talk. So he started his interaction with an offer that they could leave at any moment as cricket was very much a cultural thing with so much of local specificity that they may not actually enjoy the interaction. And of course he did start with something so specific - very much on the lines of the beginning of his book on the historic moment when Karnataka won the Ranji Trophy semi final against Bombay, recounting the incident where GR Vishwanath was not given out leg-before though he was plumb and the run out of Ajit Wadekar as he slipped trying to take a second run. Half the room left, and then Ram kept the audience on their seats for the next hour and a half with contemporary cricket to how he stumbled on Baloo Palwankar [a cricketer] who played for the Hindu Gymkhana in the Bombay pentangular, in a political setting while researching on Ambedkar and the freedom movement.
The book really starts with the same note and goes on to discuss the regional development of Cricket in various parts of India always ending Ram's all time favourite team. It was after the talk at IIM and reading the book that I really realised how specific cricket was to the regional culture. Like Ram, I have at various times had my loyalties to the Ranji team tested - between Karnataka where I grew up, Hyderabad which I made my home for a while and ended up liking the city and Gujarat which has been giving me most of my bread, [Amul] butter, cheese and jam! And how can I forget Railways [which possibly has no support outside of its own employees], which was where I spent most of my spare time trying to reach from Ahmedabad/Anand to Bangalore!! While like Ram, my first choice was Karnataka, how can I forget the moments when I visited All Saints School in Hyderabad to conduct admission tests and could not take my eyes off the photographs of the school team - consisting of Azharauddin, Venkatapathy Raju and Arshad Ayub.... was this Sharda Mandir of Hyderabad?
For persons from my [and Ram's] generation it has not only been a journey through various phases and modifications in the rules of the game, but also the access to technology to experience a match. I remember my first journey to watch a match at the [then] KSCA stadium which was newly constructed. A ticket for the gallery was Rs.25 for the season and I had cycled from home and requested some friend's friend near the stadium for a parking slot at their home to reach the queue at around 6.30 am - just to ensure that you were parked under the shade of the giant scoreboard and it was said to be the best view of the match. I actually got caught in a stampede, lost my slippers and reached the inner part of the stadium only after lunch. By this time, the tickets that were being sold in the black market had suddenly started commanding a discount and I guess I was able to get rid of my gallery ticket for a big discount after purchasing the ticket for stands which was marked at Rs.80 for another big discount. I really do not remember much of the match which was captained by Pataudi.
Unlike Ram, I have not been a Connoisseur but just a good follower. Therefore I do not remember dates events and matches so vividly. But reading the book really took me through a part of the journey I have had with Cricket and a big part which preceeded this. I can certainly identify myself with the journey of Karnataka into the finals, beating Bombay in the semi-finals. This prompted a semi-literary magazine Sudha to have a cover feature on Cricket after the win in the finals. The format used for Ranji during those days and the dearth of international cricket action meant that we followed domestic cricket more keenly. I remember that Kunderan's claim to fame was that he could hit a six at the request of the crowd and there was a phase where I believed that all wicket keepers for the country would come from Karnataka. Ram does not talk about the wicket keeper that followed Kirmani - Sadanand Vishwanath who showed so much promise and was very much a part of the victory of the Benson and Hedges cup in Australia. He was like a flash in the pan and disappeared as fast as he had arrived.
The book is as fascinating as any other writings by Ram - the first part dealing with the states and the second part dealing with the personalities. No book on cricket could give anybody full satisfaction because each one of us has his own theory and each one believes that we could captain India much better than the one out there in the middle, though most of us would not claim that we could play as well in the middle! The book took me through a journey of some of the great moments I had experienced and some great history of people about whom we had only heard. One of the most enduring hobbies in our childhood was to make a scrap book out of the photographs from the newspapers and reading Sportstar and Sportsweek was a luxury one indulged in, when somebody visited an employed unmarried uncle in whose room you would find these magazines.
I also had the good fortune of having an uncle who played for Karnataka - Sadasivan - cannot remember if he was a batsman or a bowler, but when he got married we as kids remember having thronged around his team mates - Prasanna, Chandrashekhar and Vishwanath for autographs. Ram talks about his own favourite all time eleven [plus a twelfth man or a manager thrown in] for all the teams that he discusses. People could have their own peeves, but there could be little argument in the merit of Ram's argument. Several people might like to debate Ram's continuing fascination for spin as the main weapon in the Indian attack, though I would tend to agree.
While I encourage cricket lovers to read this book, I would like to end this piece with my own enduring images of the game.
Some deep rooted beliefs [possibly not supported by facts] I had in my mind:
- Wadekar always got out in 40s, particularly at the score of 44, and if he crossed this, he would score well! [though in reality he just got out at 44 twice in his career, and 8 times in 40s. He scored more than 50 on 14 occasions and had a lone century to his credit].
- The modal value of Chandrashekhar's score is 1 not out [again not true, he was 1 not out 8 times, got out on 1 7 times and on 38 occasions stood at zero, with 16 of them unbeaten!]
Indian Cricketers who made it to the movies - apart from Durrani which Ram has referred to - Sunil Gavaskar, Sandip Patil, SMH Kirmani [as Kirmani in a villanous role], Ajay Jadeja and surprise - GR Vishwanath in a Kannada Movie - Panjarada Ginigalu.
Salil Ankola made a career in acting by moving to Television. Sidhu made a career in entertainment - not only with his commentary, but with his sheer presence on the telly screen.
Ten enduring moments of cricket [some positive, some not so, some domestic, some international, some one day, some test]
- Gavaskar batting left handed in a match against Karnataka in a semi final match in 1982 when Bombay was losing. The crowd was hostile and Gavaskar had his own form of protest. However, he got to his natural right hand when an innings defeat seemed a reality, just to save the ignominy. His match-saving score came from an over bowled by Vishwanath! This was the most un-sportsmanlike behaviour I ever saw [live]
- Ravi Shastri getting the Audi car for his performance in World Championship Series at Australia and the Indian team driving around the ground. Ravi Shastri's exit from competitive cricket - almost being booed out and his re-invention as a commentator.
- In the world cup quarter-final in Bangalore, Aamir Sohail hitting Venkatesh Prasad for a Four and gesturing to him that every ball would go for a boundary. Next ball he gets clean bowled.
- India's victory over Australia in the Titan cup match at Bangalore in 1996 where victroy was snatched from the jaws of defeat by a great 8th wicket stand by local players Kumble and Srinath. The telecast kept showing their mothers biting their nails and counting runs. Srinath's enhanced role as a pinch hitter came into greater focus from then. Six of the playing eleven were from Karnataka - Somasundar, Sunil Joshi, Dravid, Kumble, Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad.
- Shiv Sena digging up the Kotla pitch protesting Pakistan's tour of India, followed by the tour itself. In the Chennai test Pakistan wins a closely contested test. The entire crowd stands on its feet to applaud the visiting team and the team lead by Wasim Akram takes a victory lap. The best reply ever given to the Shiv Sena vandals
- As the crowds in Kolkata disrupt the game in the World Cup semi final, match referee Clive Lloyd grants the match to Sri Lanka. Vinod Kambli walks back to the pavillion in tears.
- The breathtaking test in Chennai in 1986 against Australia. The match ended in a tie.
- Javed Miandad's last ball six to give Pakistan the victory against India in 1986. The bowler was Chetan Sharma who bowled a full toss. In my mind the other cameos of Chetan, including his hat trick fade when I think of this day.
- The tied match against Zimbabwe in Paarl, Robin Singh's heriocs notwithstanding his run out hit the last nail in the tied coffin!
- India against England in the Natwest Trophy at Lords in 2002, with Kaif and Yuvraj pulling off an impossible victory. Ganguly showing aggression by taking his T Shirt off
Most of all I remember a fascinating paper written by Srini titled "Cricket, Colonialism and the Capital Market: Winning Does Not Matter but Losing Hurts". While I still have not been able to figure out if he was joking or serious this was an interesting academic piece. Here is the abstract of the paper:
There is increasing evidence of the inadequacy of 'rational' explanations of asset-pricing. It has been established empirically that mood, induced by such natural phenomena as lunar phases or sunshine, affects asset prices. This paper provides evidence, from one-day cricket international (ODI) matches played by India, that there is a significant negative impact on the daily stock market returns when the national team loses. Empirically, losing in India matters somewhat more than losing outside. The mood induced by losing a match appears to conditioned by history, in that losing to nations that represent the 'colonizers' matters but not losing to nations that share India's experience of being 'colonized'.