Leading Edge: India, home of cricket

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Delhi

“AUTOBIOGRAPHY of an Unknown Cricketer” is not a title to excite a publisher. But, should some cricket tragic of a book flogger decide to waste time and money on this as a passion project, they should expect it to shrink on the shelf next to the latest Oscar omnibus, Shrien shout or Wilbur Smith whatever.

More so in SA, where books on cricket tend to sell themselves not on subject or content but on the size of the celebrity pictured on their covers.

Even in England and Australia, where the game enjoys a significant reading culture, the words “autobiography” and “unknown” would not easily share a dust jacket among the peans to people like Shane Warne – who has four works of his own listed on Amazon, which offers 14 other books devoted to him.

These include “The Shane Warne Poetry Book”. Many books on the site feature chapters on Warne, among them “The Elizabeth Hurley Handbook”. Good luck smuggling “Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer” into that company.

But, in India, a book thus titled has existed since 1996. It was written by Sujit Mukherjee, author of four other works on cricket and eight on literature. He also gifted the English language translations of six classics including “Three Companions” and “Gora” – both by Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali polymath who in 1913 became the first writer not from Europe to win the Nobel prize in literature.

Mukherjee was a man of letters, confirmed. But he was also a confirmed cricketer – decent enough to play plenty of club cricket and, between 1951 and 1959, five first-class matches for Bihar. In his final innings he suffered a perfectly romantic fate: out hit wicket.

 

You can see where this is going, gentle cricket reader. Too many of consider India the monster of the modern game, the money machine that pays millions for nothing less than cricket’s soul. Closer to the truth is that India is the soul of cricket.

And it’s home, as in cricket lives here. Indians eat, pray and love this game like no-one else. As much as they do so aggressively – “When we go to other countries they get much more (money) than when they go to other countries,” Anurag Thakur, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said this week – they also do so with arresting tenderness.

“This autobiography of an unknown Indian cricketer has been written in the belief that there are countless others like me in India whose aspirations, whether realised or not, have gone into building this game into the enormous institution it has become today,” Mukherjee wrote.

“I sometimes thought test cricketers could be identified off-field by a halo around their heads or some other kind of effulgence …”

Mukherjee died in 2003. His book, like the game it worships and adorns, lives on.

I had to have it. Best 143 rupees – R30 – I will ever spend. Thanks Amazon.

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