First a confession. The task of reading a 700-page book, that too about India's cricketing history - profiles of its best captains - appeared a daunting venture to delve into. The fact that its author, Chetan Narula, is only in his 20s and does not boast a CV which sites academic research as his strength, made me even more sceptical of what I was going to read.
By the time I reached the last page of the book, I had turned into a genuine admirer, even envious of what Narula had achieved. Skipper, a tale of Indian captains from CK Nayudu to the present, captures the intriguing story of individual endeavours pitted against the dictatorial might and chicanery of its administrators bent upon putting their personal interests above that of the country. It is an ambitious project to link the story of India's captains -their achievements, failures, foibles, strengths, vulnerabilities - with its cricketing history. That Narula succeeds in doing so is a tribute to the young man's love for the game, his ability to achieve a balanced view of the Indian cricketing world and his painstaking skills at researching a subject which even the best of historians will not find easy, for the simple reason that not enough has been written on our cricket to serve as source material.
It is a story of why and how fate decreed for a commoner and cricket's first superstar, CK Nayudu, to emerge as India's first captain in 1932, despite the machinations of the Maharajas who controlled cricket administration in pre-independent India. It moves on to portray the maverick Lala Amarnath, independent India's first captain, in all his splendid contradictions that reflect as much on Amarnath's personality as it does on the self-serving cricketing establishment.
Occasionally, Narula's narration falters as he tries to lend his protagonists a destiny much larger than what they have already lived, by comparing them with great characters of history, fiction and even cinema. A parallel narration runs across the book, comparing a Tiger Pataudi with Alexander the Great, a Ganguly with Julius Caesar or Amarnath with Don Vito Corleone of The Godfather. This ploy, when it works, as in the case of Ganguly, lends the narration a poignant touch but mostly these analogies (Bedi compared to Jardine) make the book somewhat tedious to read.
But these are minor quibbles with a book that deals with its characters in all their human frailties and pathos, the best example being the chapter which deals with Ajit Wadekar's historic achievements and embarrassing failures or the one where Rahul Dravid's predicaments, more to do with his relationship with the team's coach, the diabolical Greg Chappell, are dealt with.
In a country where people believe in cyclical time, and the life around them as Maya (illusion) - the reason, perhaps, why we rarely produce pulp historical accounts - Narula's book is an exception that deserves to be appreciated. I completely agree with cricket writer Peter Roebuck's effusive praise in the foreword to the book where he says that "Chetan Narula has written a perceptive and a daring book."
Pradeep Magazine is a Delhi-based sports writer.