Best of Indian Sports Writing
Edited by Sundeep Misra
Rs. 295 pp 173
To borrow a cricketing metaphor, sports writers are the ultimate ‘spin’ doctors. They ply their trade chronicling epic contests, rollercoaster rivalries and carnivals of athletic brilliance attempting to imbue a spark of intelligence and a turn of phrase into routine match reports. Beyond A Boundary, by CLR James for instance, considered among the finest examples of sports writing, is essentially a Kiplingesque inquest into the question: ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’
Which is why, putting together an anthology of Indian sports writing that promises to be as good as it gets, can be a daunting task. The challenge is captured best in one of the pieces on Rahul Dravid by Suresh Menon featured in the book: “If statistics don’t support a theory, then an appeal is made to a higher element — aesthetics, ethics, effectiveness, charm, team spirit.” The editor of the anthology, seasoned scribe Sundeep Misra, is one of the tribe and he rises to the challenge.
So, apart from anecdotes and back stories centred on momentous events of our sporting history that capture a nation’s agonies and ecstasies — the Prudential World Cup victory in 1983, the T20 World Cup triumph in 2007 and the scars of the Asian Games hockey loss to Pakistan in 1982, we also get a peek into the minds of players who spend lifetimes working towards seemingly impossible goals. What stays with you after you’ve put the book down is a rendezvous with Franz Gastler, who was coaching women footballers in Jharkhand, courtesy Shantanu Guha Ray; the pathos of a fast bowler confined to a wheelchair in Clayton Murzello’s encounter with Winston Davis; the loneliness of a Kashmiri cricketer so elegiacally recaptured by Sharda Ugra, and the grind of medal hopefuls who toil for years to get a shot at Olympic glory, narrated in Kamesh Srinivasan’s piece on Abhinav Bindra. Beyond the guts and the glory, a few good writers manage to retain their playfulness. This comes across in Hindustan Times Sports Editor Sukhwant Basra’s recollections of sharing tennis courts with Leander Paes in ‘Me, Doc and the Batboy’ and Mudar Patherya’s dazzling description of the idiosyncrasies of Kolkatans who visit the Eden Gardens, in ‘The Human Laboratory Called Eden.’
And then there are the sheer strokes of dazzling prose that streak through the boundaries of your mind like a SachinTendulkar cover drive. Here’s Rohit Brijnath on Leander Paes: “Indians are quiet, undemonstrative; Leander plays like a man soaked in kerosene who fires himself up by lighting matchsticks with his teeth.” Or Suresh Menon on Dravid: “While a Sehwag or Tendulkar halts life in the nation, with fans dropping whatever they are doing to watch the action, Dravid would let life go on. It is as if his countrymen were saying, adapting Robert Browning, ‘Rahul’s at the crease, all’s right with the world.'"