Sampath G

A sober companion to watch IPL with

In Cricket, Sports, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Pained by the degeneracy of contemporary cricket, a famous essayist lamented, “A hard utilitarianism and commercialization have far too long controlled it.” Years later, a famous cricketer who felt the same pain commented, “The first and worst trouble of modern cricket is that players play too much, our best men will be permanently stale, irritable and below form.”

Just consider: when these two observations were made, there was no IPL, no T20, no one-dayers, no live telecast of cricket matches, and therefore no multimillion dollar sponsorships or broadcast deals. The first observation is from E.V. Lucas, writing in 1907. The second one was made by Walter Hammond 60 years ago.
And here we are today. Guess what’s ailing the sport? Too much commercialization and too many matches. Both these taken together leave our best men permanently stale, irritable and below form. We saw extreme evidence of this when M.S. Dhoni’s men got thrashed 4-0 in England within three months of being crowned world champions, and our laborious ascent to the No 1 ranking in Tests began to be remembered more by our premature ejection from that position.
And yet, for all the pain, the typical cricket lover—even, and especially, the purist—cannot help but continue to follow the sport. For that, too, is an essential trait of the purist: loyalty to the sport no matter what. No matter how many times the game is dragged through the gutter of fixing scandals, no matter how many times the sport is betrayed by its administrators, and no matter how much of meaningful cricket commentary is replaced by vacuous chatter, the purist will not—cannot—stop watching.
For such souls, which are bound to be in pain at this time of the year in this part of the world, the first Indian edition of the Wisden Almanack comes as a quiet, shaded grove where, sheltered from the lurid assault of Indian Premier League, they can meditate in peace on a magnificent career come to a close, or relive the nostalgia of a famous victory, and energise once again their waning enthusiasm for the game.
The first edition of the Wisden Almanack came out in 1864. It took nearly a century and a half for sport’s longest-running reference book to come to India. Edited by Suresh MenonWisden India Almanack 2013has almost everything one has come to expect from the UK original—essays, match reports and scorecards, compilation of records, obituaries and quirky chronicles.
Easily the most outstanding feature of this 760-page volume are the essays, some of which go beyond the boundary, both in space and time, and entertain even as they illumine the action within.
Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie’s The backside of Lord’s is a delightful account of what it’s like to live within cheering distance of the Lord’s cricket ground. When she is working, she says, the TV is on mute. “If the wind direction is right and the Lord’s crowd near capacity, their cheers come through the open window—the sound somewhere between the roar of a wave and the whoosh of car tyres speeding along a road—and I can swivel around and, thanks to the slight lag between event and transmission, actually catch the bails flying or the ball leaving the face of the bat to bring up that century.”
While it is de rigueur for the purist to bemoan the dumbing down of the sport wrought by the IPL phenomenon, the fact remains that IPL has benefited young cricketing talent in the country by opening up career options. In The IPL Generation, Anand Vasu narrates the fascinating story of 28-year-old Thiyagarajan, who used to open the batting in the first division of competitive cricket in Chennai. The pragmatic youngster demoted himself to the second division in order to “improve his ball striking skills”, and within a year of the move, succeeded in snagging a contract worth one million rupees with Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Bishen Singh Bedi’s tribute to Tiger Pataudi, and Sanjay Manjrekar’s piece on Sunil Gavaskar are lively and affectionate accounts of how the legends had inspired the writers in their respective lives and careers. Javagal Srinath’s piece on Kapil Dev is resonant with what the former cannot or would not say about the impact the latter had on his career. Srinath coyly admits to having competed with the great all-rounder, nothing more.
In Why the richest is not the best, the evergreen Ayaz Memon gamely attempts once again what every cricket writer worth his word count has tried at some point and given up: appeal to the nobler and saner side of the gents who run the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). He writes, “…the mindset of the administration too has to be tweaked – from constantly looking to fill its coffers to constantly seeking results and excellence.” Good luck with that, Ayaz.
The only disappointment in this otherwise excellent volume are the tour and match reports, many of which are tame narratives of what happened, offering little of the insightful touches that one expects from Wisden. The report on India’s tour of Australia last year, for instance, makes no reference to the most glaring (and for the fan, most frustrating) feature of India’s 4-0 drubbing: in match after match after match, despite repeated failures, not once did India make a single change in its dysfunctional batting order. Young Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane warmed the benches right through a Test series that we lost 4-0.
The match report on the third Test in Perth, where David Warner scored a murderous 180 and India lost by an innings and 37 runs, asserts that Warner “sucked the fight out of India.” Interestingly enough, Warner said after the match that “he felt the pressure” when he went in to bat. “If this is what pressure made him produce,” says the Wisden writer, “one shudders to think what he will do when his mind is calm”. Now, this is exactly the kind of facile rhapsodizing that you don’t want to see in a quality match report.
Warner was not fibbing when he said that he felt the pressure. India, who batted first, was bundled out for 161 because the Perth wicket really was difficult to bat on. It was slightly easier for Australia, but even then Warner was very cautious to begin with, and kept playing and missing. Then he did what he does when under pressure—he tried to hit his way out of trouble.
When a player of Warner’s caliber swings the bat, there is a decent chance he would connect. And he did a couple of times. Immediately Dhoni took away the slips and spread the field, taking the pressure off, and making it way easier for Warner. If anything sucked the fight out of India, it was poor captaincy. Had the Indian skipper kept faith in his pacers, we could have been more competitive than we were. By switching to a defensive field prematurely, any chance of an early breakthrough was as good as forfeited, and the Aussie openers put on a massive partnership of 214, effectively taking the match away from India. A little less enthusiasm for eloquence and a little more for close observation and analysis would have considerably improved the tour narratives.
Like all great reference books, the Wisden can be read from cover to cover or dipped into whenever the mood strikes you. The section on records is ideal for browsing when you’re on the couch watching IPL and there’s a commercial break. Did you know, for instance, that in first class cricket, the third highest career average in the universe, next only to Don Bradman and Vijay Merchant, belongs to Ajay Sharma(10,120 runs at an average of 67.46)? Or that, of the three fastest triple centuries in the history of international cricket, two are by Sehwag?
Personally, the record I found the most interesting was the highest percentage of team’s runs scored by a player in his Test career. As you would expect, right on top is the greatest—Don Bradman. The Australian scored 24.28% of all his team’s runs during his career. At number 3 is Brian Lara, who accounted for 18.87% of his team’s runs. Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t find a mention in this list but it would be an interesting exercise to see where he stands on this one, and also the several Indian batsmen who would rank above him.
The chronicles section, of course, is rich in intrigue and entertainment. Here’s a gem, sourced from a national newspaper: “Navin Mendon, 37, of Lokhandwala, has failed to regain full use of his voice after cheering himself hoarse during India’s semi-final win over Pakistan during the World Cup. Doctors said his vocal cords had been abused.” And here’s a typical it can happen only in India story: “The Bombay high court has started investigating a complaint by two alleged terrorists that they had failed to appear for a hearing because the policemen supposed to be escorting them were watching an IPL match.”
If you love cricket, and nothing but cricket, the Wisden India Almanack 2013 would be a nice companion to have by your side when you sit down to catch your next IPL match. I did just that, yesterday. And whenKarishma Kotak asked Kings XI Punjab’s Manan Vohra about nightlife in Chandigarh, I picked up the thick, fat volume and threw it at the TV. Luckily for me, I missed.

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