History for cricket often chronicles matches played, batting and bowling records and a few tit-bits, anecdotes and trivia associated with cricketers. Cricket was brought to India by the British. Though the game is today more Indian than British we take a backseat when it comes to writing about the game. We do not have much documentation on the early rise and development of the game; about events that brought glory and events that could well be forgotten.‘Once upon a Furore’ is a fine attempt at revisiting those events.
The book traces the ‘Lost pages in the history of Indian cricket’ through some fine research and substantiates the events discussed with media references available from those times. Boria Majumdar and his research team have done some great work to revisit the birth of cricket in India, the earlier tournaments, the birth of Ranji Trophy(not without its share of controversies), the power play by the BCCI and the controversies surrounding some of India’s greatest players, Ranjitsinghji, CK Nayadu, Lala Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad.
The chapters that visit the trials of these players come down to one common point that no player escaped the wrath of politics and power play; and the scenario does not seem to have changed much in the present day unless you are a Sachin Tendulkar!
As we traverse these cricketing memories, we discern a few commonalties that recur through time. Communalism will be an issue with everyone but those playing the game. (A point brought to the forefront to ban the Pentangular Tournament.) Camaraderie, sporting spirit and loyalty to the team are qualities that most sportsmen consider important and will always be present in the finest of them. Money always makes the world go round, it was so during the princely rule, during the 50s and 60s decades and even today the picture is not different.
We are not aware about all aspects that go into the selection of players but over the years it has been seen that merit is not the sole criteria in being awarded a place in the team. Power play exercised by Vizzy against Amarnath and then later CK Nayadu, both being India’s finest players, proves the above fact. Both suffered due to non-cricketing reasons and so did Vinoo Mankad as we see later in the book. Surely these players had earned enough respect through their performances on-field to not deserve such treatment off it.
The Player-Board conflict has continued through decades. A stark example would be the Rajputana Cricket Club’s tour of England and the events that followed it. We see some changes in the modern era but the Board’s insistence to be the Boss continues even today.
In uncovering the events, the author fortunately does not sideline the always ignored ‘Men in Black and White’. This is an interesting chapter where the author reflects on the selection of umpires and the reasons behind India not producing excellent umpires to perform on the international arena despite producing the world’s best cricketers. How dirty the politics was regarding umpire selection and the depths it plunged to; is observed in this very chapter.
I was disappointed about the coverage given to the match fixing episode which shook Indian cricket in 2000. There was much more media coverage then and maybe a bit more perspective on the issue could have been given. It is mentioned fleetingly and could have been dealt with in detail.
At the end of it, I found the book lacking in one aspect. It fails to hold the reader’s attention continuously. It does so in parts especially towards the latter half. Reading the early chapters is like going through news archives and some better narration would have helped to maintain the reader’s attention.
If you are neither a cricket fan nor with any interest in history then you might not appreciate this effort but if you are both, then I feel you should give it one glance atleast. Boria Majumdar and his team have done fine justice in compiling the events of early days in Indian cricket and giving every fan a chance to revisit them.
As we reach the end of this fine effort we realize one thing that we learn from history that ‘We never learn from history.’ The saga continues in the modern era albeit with different actors enacting the parts in the drama called Indian Cricket.
Crossposted on Desicritics.org. My first book review.