A True Wisdom Almanack - The New Indian Express

A True Wisdom Almanack

Published: 19th March 2014 08:52 AM

Last Updated: 19th March 2014 10:26 AM

As the viewership of cricket grows, the reading becomes pleasant too, via Wisden India | PTI/File
Apart from producing some outstanding cricketers in the modern era, India has also given the world some fine cricket writers, and the Wisden India Almanack 2014 is where a number of them come together. The 927-page volume (172 more than the 2013 edition) brings ‘Bricks, Bosanquets’, bouncers and much more from around 50 distinguished writers and cricket personalities from all over the cricket globe, barring New Zealand. There are also “novelists, philosophers, activists, political theorists, essayists, players and scientists”. Not all of them are equally thrilling, but the sum is compelling and lends the book the kind of variety that one might perhaps not find even in the most versatile bowler’s over.

Divided into six segments, this compilation reserves its best for the first one. Among others, travel writer Pico Iyer — in what he claims is his “first and surely last piece on cricket” — takes a stroll down the bygone years when cricket meant leisure and not the commercial violence of today. Mudar Patherya captures the irretrievably lost charm of Eden Gardens in his melancholic tribute, “The Death of Nostalgia”.

The most stirring stops in the first segment are erected by Suresh Menon and Dileep Premachandran. In an age of corruption and ignorance, they assume the role of the conscience that has been made conspicuous by its absence. Commenting on the rot in the IPL and the BCCI’s controversial theatrics on the global platform, Menon warns, “Will the next BCCI president be able to handle the backlash...For, have no fear, backlash there will be... and if responsibility is divorced from power, the fallout can be catastrophic”. In his bold debunking of the ‘enthusiast’ saga and the establishment’s apparent unwillingness to react, Premachandran sums up the BCCI’s stand succinctly yet subtly when he says, “Nero couldn’t have fiddled better”. At a time when “journalists with an opinion become marked men”, these are passionate appeals indeed.

One of the four sub-chapters in this segment is ‘Six Cricketers of the Year’. In analyzing Cheteshwar Pujara, Sandeep Dwivedi acknowledges the lesson that Pujara’s father drilled into the young batsman — that the bat isn’t a plaything and deserves the kind of respect craftsmen extend to their tool — and leaves proof that he has studied his subject with just as much care. Greg Chappell’s piece on MS Dhoni is a tribute to the unique traits of the India skipper. Heaping praise where it’s due, Chappell doesn’t forget to mention that all hasn’t been well in Tests abroad and while appreciating Dhoni’s love for military aircraft and guns, he also identifies the contradictions. “I expected the warrior in him to challenge Australia in more evenly balanced conditions” — this observation on India’s “demand for extremely spin-friendly pitches” in the 2013 series is a fearless comment from a controversially intrepid man. Osman Samiuddin’s outstanding analysis of what makes Misbah-ul-Haq durable in the volatile world of Pakistan cricket is a must-read, not least because of the infusion of humour in between serious analysis.

The second segment is on Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell. So much has already been written about the landmark event that a word more would only extend the overkill. Suffice to say that Narendra Pani’s note, where he concludes that the Tendulkar era is the “greatest period in the history of the Indian middle class” is as good a socio-cultural analysis as one can come across, and that Jaideep Verma and Soham Sarkhel’s ‘impact rating’ is a very interesting post-mortem of the batsman’s most memorable innings.

Wisden India Review is the third segment which boasts some excellent book reviews, and the obituary section deserves special mention simply because the list has as many as 97 entries from around the world including that of Siddhartha Mishra, the sports editor of New Indian Express. The list includes not just cricketers but even individuals connected in tangential ways with the game. The fourth segment, called ‘80 Years of Ranji Trophy’, is a tale of this often-neglected tournament, and the contributors are those devoted men who follow the show with remarkable seriousness.

Since one cannot go on indefinitely in a newspaper, it would be fair to end by saying that the Almanack is a large volume, but the pleasure of reading it is greater. And Wisden Cricketers’s Almanack’s editor Lawrence Booth need not have worried (“If you find errors, please be gentle”). The reader will be too busy enjoying the book to spare time for finding errors.

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