It was quite a week for launches of cricket books in Bengaluru. On December 15, it was Mike Brearley On Cricket , and the sage himself was in town to talk about it.
Then on 19th, it was the turn of women’s cricket, with The Fire Burns Blue by Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik, two of the finest in the business. Finally, on December 20, V. V. S. Laxman told us about the marks he got in school (among other things) at the launch of his 281 and Beyond .
Brearley’s is a collection of essays, some expanded from those originally published, some written afresh for the book, and all both readable and informative. Few people understand the game and its players as well as Brearley does; he is, after all, as the Australian bowler Rodney Hogg said, the man “with a degree in people.” Laxman’s is a cricketer’s story written with the help of senior journalist R. Kaushik and fills in some gaps in the recent story of Indian cricket.
The book on women’s cricket is full of surprises, painting the big picture as well as the fascinating details. It provides a hint to both publishers and potential writers that, contrary to popular belief, there is space for the intelligent, well-written cricket book that is both serious and entertaining. It is a pioneering effort, and should inspire others to similar efforts.
Publishers need to know that books sell; writers that there are lots and lots of untold stories in Indian sport — from women’s sport, to the growth and gentrification of kabaddi to a cultural history of badminton, once the most popular individual ‘social’ sport in our residential areas and at high-rise apartments.
The historian Ramachandra Guha has often complained that as a people Indians tend to be ahistorical, seldom preserving letters personal or official, seldom seeing the need for saving material for posterity.
Historians of women’s cricket in the country have the advantage that it is officially less than half a century old, and many of the actors in the drama are alive, accessible and have untapped stories to tell.
Sometimes, you arrive at the truth by a process of triangulation as it were, confirming memories, corroborating stories from various sources, and where corroboration is not available, simply dropping the stories. Or keeping them for a future date when such confirmation becomes available.
If Fire Burns Blue is the most fascinating of recent cricket books, it is as much for the story of generations of committed players who knew all about the struggle, but didn’t know what giving up meant, as for the techniques of fact-collection, and the architecture of the narrative.
When I started out as a reporter, the prevailing view of women’s cricket was articulated by a senior journalist who quoted Samuel Johnson: “A woman playing cricket is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
We have come a long way since.