Reading match reports early the next day in the newspaper was a multi-sensory experience for those who lived and breathed cricket in the pre-television era. Images of their favourite players danced in front of readers as they learnt of their exploits through the eloquent words of sports journalists. Even in the absence of the Internet and mobile phone, scribes met their tight deadlines and shot off reports to the newsroom for the readers to relive the action the next morning.
As someone who learnt to fathom cricket’s “distinctive, peculiar and amusing lexicon” through newspaper reports, and went on to become one of the prominent names in Indian sports journalism, Ayaz Memon has done a commendable job putting together an anthology that spotlights some of the finest writing on the game.
Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947 is a unique collection. It narrates the history of Indian cricket through earlier published reports of journalists who enjoyed a ringside view of the action.
It would have been a tedious process to dig these out from the archives of various newspapers, and that too in the middle of a pandemic. But Ayaz is meticulous, and in the process, has succeeded in casting a journalist’s eye on the coverage of the sport in the country.
Though not exhaustive, the anthology touches upon all the major inflection points in Indian cricket since 1947. His motivation: “Primarily it was the lack of enough published material on the period between 1947 and 1971. I deep-dived into the archives of some leading national dailies, and while there are reports of most matches, these are mainly from news agencies, or carried no bylines, which defeated the original concept. In a way, this highlights the beleaguered state of sports journalism in the 1950s and 60s. Things started to improve in 1971, the year of India’s cricket renaissance, and caught speed after India won the World Cup in 1983,” he writes in the foreword.
Ayaz has used match reports, screaming headlines and scorecards to convey the flavour and tenor of the 1950s and 60s. Vinoo Mankad's profile, written by Rajan Bala, argues why he should be India’s cricketer of the century. “Mankad played a hand in Test victories in a manner no Indian before or after him has.”
While two of the essays — Makarand Waingankar on Tiger Pataudi and Harsha Bhogle’s “Cricket with Pakistan” — are freshly minted, the rest are evergreen. MP Shashi Tharoor who doesn’t remember where his essay on Sunil Gavaskar originally appeared elaborates why the “little master” is the embodiment of Independent India. It serves as reparation for Tharoor’s no-holds-barred comment piece in a magazine that was “a major factor in Gavaskar’s retirement.”
The book also features articles by historian Ramachandra Guha, novelist Shobhaa De and Prithi Narayanan, wife of off-spinner R. Ashwin.
Apart from bringing alive complexities, nuances and brilliance, Ayaz highlights failures and controversies that shaped Indian cricket. A vivid interview of Kapil Dev, published in a national daily the day after his unceremonious axe in 1984, presents a stark contrast to the modern-day diktat of putting a gag on players during tournaments. “I had imagined when the day came when I would be dropped from the side on merit, I would just walk off from cricket. I wouldn’t try to come back. Now it is different. No one has told me anything about this matter and I am more surprised,” the reporter quotes Kapil as saying from his hotel room. The feud between two superstars — Kapil and Gavaskar — was the biggest story in the early 1980s. The controversy reached a nadir when Kapil was dropped from the third Test against England. An agency report captures how the discontent started over the frivolous matter of payment for an exhibition match and snowballed into one of the biggest controversies in Indian cricket.
Adding fuel to the fire was Sandip Patil’s scathing editorial in his cricket weekly that held Kapil fully responsible for the leaking of reports to a local eveninger. “Kapil had first agreed to play for the amount given to him and hence his subsequent act is like stabbing Gavaskar in the back,” Patil writes.
Apart from renowned Indian writers such as K.N. Prabhu, Khalid Ansari and R. Mohan, the book also features articles by Mihir Bose, Ashish Ray, David McMahon and Tunku Vardarajan. A milestone section by Clayton Murzello sums up the highlights of Indian cricket in a nutshell.
Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947
Edited by Ayaz Memon
pp. 404, Rs.899