Tuesday, March 19, 2013

States of Indian Cricket

I have heard a lot about Ramachandra Guha's eclectic interests- his passion for Marxism, his ability as a historian, his interest in environmentalism and his love for Cricket. And having read his articles occasionally, I respected his skill as a writer. That made me pick up his book States of Indian Cricket, an anthology of essays based on Cricket; It is basically two different books reprinted together. The first one, called Wickets in the East, is where Guha picks up Best XI's from six of India's most important Cricketing states, and proceeds through the history of the respective regions, comparing batsmen across eras, talking statistics and discussing societal influences on the players' styles. It begins as a fairly personal chronicle of a man who loves the sport and who has a deep interest in its history. But it turns fast into a plethora of numbers, venues, records and names. For one, the writing is very dull, and two, Guha comes off less as a passionate fan and more as a snobby intellectual who is far too in love with himself and his theories. No, it's not bad writing. Its just that it is as interesting as a History thesis detailing Lord Curzon's report regarding the political upheaval in India. The subject is very interesting, its just that the narrative is very conceited.

I have been a fan of sportswriters, the romantics who never fall out of love with the game, the dramatists who know which points to highlight and the astute analyzers who know enough about the history and the technicalities of the game to put it in context. I didn't know what was wrong with the book but I knew something was amiss. This was not an ode to the game he loved, not a tribute to his favourite players. It was more of a thesis statement. Which is kind of ironical because in his preface he states that the reason behind the existence of the book was Ashis Nandy's Tao of Cricket, which I haven't read, but which Guha claims was boring because it was way too analytical and not anecdotal. I have a similar complaint against Guha. Yes, he has a few interesting anecdotes, but they are not narrated with the excitement of a raconteur but rather, with the habituality of a stand-up comedian.

Only after I started reading the second part, Spin and Other turns, which is a much better offering, did I realise why Guha wasn't as gripping as my other favourite sportswriters. I am a huge fan of Rohit Brijnath, Peter Roebuck and having read the occasional Norman Mailer and Neville Cardus, I know you don't have to be boring just because you were classical. And Paul Wheeler's Bodyline is one of the most interesting books I've read, which plays out as intriguingly as drama despite being historical, and is as inspiring as fiction precisely because it loves its heroes, the good, the bad and the ugly. Guha, on the other hands, comes off as too cocky to fall in love. He has a knowledge of the craft but I don't think he truly comprehends the art. There is respect in his voice but no reverence. There is appreciation, no awe.The reason great sportswriters are so great is not just because they analyse the game. But, instead, they try to understand the athlete from the game he plays. Cricket, for that matter any sport, is so full of life and interesting precisely because the men who love and play it are so interesting. Tendulkar and Dravid, Federer and Nadal, Messi and Ronaldo; They play the same game. But the way they do it talks so much about themselves and the game. Guha looks at everything with an air of superiority, his head filled with preconceived notions, and like that adage goes, When you have a hammer in you hand, everything looks like a nail, he is more attuned towards fitting people into his theories than to try and unravel the man who plays the game so well.

All in all, a rather dull affair the books are. Guha is a statistician who can write and an historian who likes Cricket. If you are the kind who reads every sportsbook that hits the stands, this ain't a bad read. But if you are an occasional sports book reader, stay away. There are far better and much loved books than this.

1 comment:

Deekshith Vemuganti said...

I am loving the way you are turning up into an independent thinker and a rationalistic judge. Well for 2 points.

1) you read the book and then start judging it (the way it should be done)

2) I see you're no longer in the self concocted imagery of stereotyping your heroes' achievements and going with them irrationally which like how once you were. (No offence ra!)

I loved the way you firmly, yet ruthlessly denied Guha's work and you could give legit reasons.

Keep reading. :)