The romance of `Bombay' cricket
In Sandeep Bamzai's ode to Bombay cricket and cricketers, there is an unresolved tension between rival philosophies that vie for hegemony. However, here is a book that deserves to be in the hands of every cricket lover, says T.G. VAIDYANATHAN.
Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar during the England tour of 1971.
SUPERMAN Plus crashes into a secret meeting of the Indian selectors. Asked if he can bat he says ("I guarantee I can hit a six off every ball bowled to me and that I will never get out") ditto bowl ("I guarantee to take a wicket with every ball I bowl and to bowl all day if need be") ditto fielding ("I guarantee to stop the other team taking any runs off any ball they hit anywhere in the field"). Whereupon the selectors mutter among themselves "Ah, but are you from Bombay?"
This little story is from Mike Marqusee's chapter "Bombay v Mumbai" in his War Minus the Shooting (Mandarin, 1996) and, clearly, Sandeep Bamzai's ode to Bombay cricket and cricketers Guts And Glory: The Bombay Cricket Story (Rupa, 2002) is the Indian offspring of Marqusee's Bombay chapter which, in turn, probably derives, I suspect, from Ram Guha's unpublished research on the Bombay Pentangular and Quadrangular. For Ram played unsuspecting host to Marqusee during the India-Pak. encounter in Bangalore during the 1996 World Cup and has clearly paid the price.
But Bamzai's pretty little book (it is a little over 150 pages and is chockfull of photographs, in sepia "and" colour, and is unbelievably priced at just Rs. 100) deserves to be in the hands of every cricket lover, young or old. "A must read for all cricketers, arm-chair experts and cricket lovers all over the country'' in the well-chosen words of the blurb.
Sandeep Bamzai's love of Bombay cricket and cricketers leads often to hagiography. But, for me, the real heart of the book is contained in a sepia-toned photograph (between pp.28-29) first published in Ajit Wadekar's autobiography My Cricketing Years (Vikas, 1973). A young Gavaskar is seen walking beside his captain, Wadekar, in a London drizzle under the shade of an umbrella. Gavaskar is seen in an open shirt (even his vest is faintly visible behind the wrinkled and unironed shirt) with a jacket casually thrown over it. He is wearing a wrist watch and a ring in his left hand ring finger and smiling, head tilted towards his much taller captain. Wadekar, meanwhile, looks extremely dapper with his right hand tucked inside his trouser pocket while his free left hand is holding aloft the umbrella. Dressed in a three-piece suit, he is wearing a white shirt and his tie is held in place by a tie-clip. He is looking confidently outwards and is clearly on top of the world (India won that series against England for the first time ever). Gavaskar's fortunes were on the rise and this was the start of a record-breaking career. Yet, here, he still looks a tyro, with his wrinkled jacket (two uneven and inexpensive pens are visible in his pocket) and his left hand is crossed respectfully across his chest. On both the wrists are talismanic amulets to ward off bad luck. (In later years he is to become a votary of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the Puttaparti saint). The story of the passage from "G. Sunil" to the legendary "Sunil Gavaskar" who made 34 Test hundreds is told in the opening chapter, "Boys from Chikalwadi". It is interesting to read that Gavaskar's early idols were the fast bowlers, Ray Lindwall and Wesley Hall! Less interesting is the fact that his 10,122 Test runs were made in 13,132 minutes. Does it matter? The story of Bradman looking for Gavaskar to take him out to lunch looks a later embellishment: it is not found in any of Gavaskar's cricket books. Whereas the story of how Sobers saw Wadekar in the nets wearing torn shoes looks too good to be a later interpolation.
There is an unresolved tension in the book between rival philosophies that vie for hegemony. One is prominent in the very title of the book, Guts and Glory. (This looks more appropriate for a biography of General Patton who played a crucial role in the Battle of the Bulge). The other is the nurturing of Bombay batsmen by their seniors. In fact, the title of the second chapter, "Shishyas who became Gurus" makes the latter phenomenon explicit (Bamzai even refers to the guru-shishya parampara in describing the 151-run partnership between Vengsarkar and Gavaskar at the Kotla during the 1976 West Indies tour of India!).
This unresolved contradiction in the book comes out in the contrasting portraits of two of the city's cricketing icons, Ravi Shastri and Sachin Tendulkar. Ravi Shastri is a non-Mumbaikar, typifying "the vitality, vigour and character of the melting pot". Waking up at 5:30 a.m. taking the suburban bus to Azad maidan for practice and then taking another train to King's Circle to go to school, Shastri seems to have had no mentors, no gurus which is probably why he was never made captain of the National side (the only time he did so in the Madras Test in 1987-88 India actually won!). Always "ruthlessly competitive", Shastri exemplifies the modern temper that you should "go for the jugular, whether bowling or batting". Like Gavaskar, who always promoted "the players' interest" (read self- interest) Shastri followed the un-Indian maxim of "khunnas, exemplifing the spirit of no quarter given and none asked for' (p.137). True he may have played Shane Warne better than anybody else (Bill Lawry) "but the selectors, despite his having all the necessary leadership qualities never gave him the job" of captaincy. He paid the price for his "attitude"'.
Sachin Tendulkar is in every way the polar opposite of Shastri, although Bamzai, trapped in his admiration of the "guts and glory" syndrome does not see this. He begins his account of Sachin in his chapter "Destiny's Child" by describing Sachin as unarguably "new age, a slugger and a streetfighter, toughened on the Shivaji Park maidan... an attacking phenomenon". No problem with this. But we soon realise that "Tendlya', as he is fondly called, is a Maharastrian at heart, not just a Mumbaikar. "I used to play two matches a day at Shivaji Park and Azad maidan. The discipline instilled in me by Achrekar Sir has really helped me. He provided me with support and was always there to guide me". If "Tendlya" missed a practice due to unavoidable circumstances, Achrekar Sir would come around and pick him up on the scooter.
An "attacking" phenomenon ... Tendulkar.
Named after Sachin Dev Burman, the legendary music director, Sachin is clearly not in the Shastri mould. Madhav Mantri one of his mentors recounts how on the tour of England in 1990 (when Mantri himself was manager) Sachin came to his room the morning after he made a hundred at Old Trafford "sat at his feet and asked how he had played". Shastri wouldn't have done that. The chapter ends with broad hints about how Sachin himself is turning into a guru for younger players: he is talking to his partners giving them tips on tightening the game even during the heat of the game.
However, inspite of all these unresolved tensions, Guts And Glory: The Bombay Cricket Story is a great buy at Rs. 100. It has nearly 16 pages of photographs of the Bombay greats, making it inspirational reading for the young. Every young Indian who dreams he can become a Gavaskar or Tendulkar should beg, borrow or steal to procure a copy for himself. Why even daughters in these days of woman's cricket!
Guts & Glory: The Bombay Cricket Story, Sandeep Bamzai, Rupa and Co., 2002, p. 157, Rs.100.
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