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 Testof 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.