Ramachandra Guha has written a great many books. The early ones were on the environment, most of the later ones on Gandhi. Half a dozen are about his passion, cricket. This book is a cricket-centred autobiography.
Guha grew up in Dehradun, within walking distance of three cricket fields. He went to Doon School and then St Stephen’s College in Delhi, where he played cricket. At 15, he got asthma; that ended his playing days. In his 20s, he concentrated on scholarship; then he began writing. He wrote his multi-volume biography of Gandhi. He watched cricket, met cricketers and talked to other cricket-lovers. That is what his book is about.
The book begins with Guha’s early heroes-the Nawab of Pataudi, Farokh Engineer, Vijay Hazare etc-and then comes to Sachin Tendulkar, “one-stop shop of batsmanship”. Then Guha crosses 50; the boring patriotism and parochialism of his youth wear off, and he begins to appreciate good play irrespective of the player’s nationality.
He has some superb stories. For instance, during a match in Bombay in 1966, Gary Sobers asked his partner Clive Lloyd to hurry up and start hitting. They scored a hundred in 75 minutes and won the match. When Lloyd thanked him for the advice, Sobers said it had nothing to do with the match: he had to rush to Mahalakshmi race course because he had good tips for the races at 4 and 4:30 pm. Nazar Mohammad, writes Guha, a cautious batsman, had to end his career in the 1950s because he jumped out of a window when he was with Noor Jehan, the actress, and her husband returned without notice.
The Commonwealth of Cricket: A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Subtle and Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind by Ramachandra Guha Fourth Estate Rs 699; 360 pages
Guha gives his version of the controversial events that made him famous-the Supreme Court’s appointment of him as member of the Committee of Administrators (CoA) to replace the Board of Cricket Control for India in 2017, and his resignation. The contretemps goes back to a case filed by the Bihar Cricket Association in May 2013 against the BCCI for ignoring match-fixing and betting in the Indian Premier League matches. In January 2015, the matter reached the Supreme Court, which appointed the Lodha Committee to investigate. The BCCI sat on its report and did nothing. In January 2017, the Supreme Court removed the president and secretary and placed the BCCI under the CoA. It imposed a new constitution it framed on the BCCI, after which the CoA dissolved itself in October 2019. Guha found his fellow-members too tolerant of continuing improprieties in the BCCI, and resigned after five months-a pity, because the BCCI continues to be a treasure trove for non-cricketer opportunists. Now we must wait for another scandal and another court intervention, which may take another quarter century.
At the end of the book, Guha dwells on the loosening of loyalties: he has become less partisan between various cricket teams and match types. Let us hope he does not become neutral to cricket; another book of his on cricket is still worth looking forward to.