Of unwritten books

In My Unwritten Books, the critic George Steiner says, “A book unwritten is more than a void. It is the unwritten book which might have made the difference.” I would like to believe that is true in the case of my unwritten books, but I know it cannot be!

Didn’t take off: “Among my unwritten books was a ghost-written autobiography of Mohinder Amarnath. We spent time in Jamshedpur during a Ranji Trophy match and then over subsequent meetings had many informal chats, but nothing came of that,” says the author.   -  Getty Images

In 1986, after India and Australia concluded the second-ever tied Test, in Chennai, I had an idea. I would write a book on that one match. There was a precedent — Jack Fingleton’s The Greatest Test of All was an account of the first tie a quarter century earlier.

To write a book about a single match had its challenges, but there is even a book (a monograph, actually) on a single innings: John Arlott’s Alletson’s Innings, about Notts batsman Edwin Alletson making 189 in 90 minutes in 1911.

In the end, my book was not written. My sports editor wrote to the publishers pitching it — and neither of us heard from them again!

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I was reminded of this and other unwritten books when an interviewer asked me in connection with a recent book of mine — Why Don’t You Write Something I Might Read? Reading, Writing and Arrhythmia — if I hadn’t written a dozen books on the game. No I haven’t. But my unwritten books might reach that figure.

My next unwritten book was a ghost-written autobiography of Mohinder Amarnath. We spent time in Jamshedpur during a Ranji Trophy match and then over subsequent meetings had many informal chats. I was keen — especially at the prospect of spending time with Lala Amarnath, one of the most fascinating cricketers to play for India — but nothing came of that either.

The closest I came to writing a cricket book before I actually wrote one was on the inaugural tour of South Africa in 1992-93. A leading publisher called me up at Indian Express where I was sports editor and set the ball rolling. We met ahead of the tour, and in South Africa I made lots of notes. It was a historical tour, and there was plenty happening on and off the field. But on my return to India, the publisher seemed to have lost interest. I was foolish; I should have insisted on a contract and an advance rather than promises.

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In My Unwritten Books, the critic George Steiner says, “A book unwritten is more than a void. It is the unwritten book which might have made the difference.” I would like to believe that is true in the case of my unwritten books, but I know it cannot be!

At different times, some half a dozen Indian cricketers were keen on their autobiographies and asked if I could write them. In one case, I brought the player and the publisher together, and we discussed the project in some detail. But again, things didn’t work out. I may have been to blame in some of these instances as other issues (mainly the matter of finding time) cropped up.

Sometimes I wonder which performance I might choose if I were to write about a single innings. Perhaps Vinoo Mankad’s 184 at Lord’s in 1952 (he made 72 in the first innings and had match figures of 5 for 231 in 97 overs). That would be an impressive addition to my list of unwritten books.