Soumya Bhattacharya’s book on the new generation of champion cricketers is elegant prose coupled with keen observation.
After Tendulkar: The New Stars of Indian Cricket
Rs 495, PP217
When the Fab Five of Indian cricket — Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar — walked into the sunset, a generation of fans in the country felt a sense of despair. Journalist Soumya Bhattacharya [Disclaimer: Bhattacharya is resident editor of the Hindustan Times in Mumbai], the author of After Tendulkar, went through similar emotions.
But as is the nature of the beast, competitive sport churns out another crop of champion cricketers — Messrs MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, among others — who have assuaged the author’s sense of loss, “of what Ian McEwan calls instant nostalgia”.
It is this transition in the aftermath of the retirement of a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar that forms the meat of the book. The premise is simple enough. What prevents it from being merely a compendium of scoresheets is the author’s penchant for drawing on popular culture. Invoking his favourite literary figures, Bhattacharya imbues the prose with an unmistakable energy.
Consider the manner in which he recalls an interview with Cheteshwar Pujara’s father. “It put me in mind what Philip Roth had said when he had announced in November 2012 that he would write another book. ‘At the end of life, the boxer Joe Louis said, “I did the best I could with what I had”… If Cheteshwar Pujara can say that at the end of his career, both he and his father will be happy men. And Indian cricket will have a great deal to be thankful for.”
Or the manner in which Bhattacharya dissects Dhoni’s explosive batsmanship: “‘Caress’ and ‘glide’ are absent from his batting lexicon; ‘smite’ ‘whack’, ‘heave’, ‘scythe’ and ‘clobber’ form the core vocabulary of his batting.”
The narrative is colourful and Bhattacharya’s observation skills shine through most when describing the idiosyncrasies of a certain pugnacious foul-mouthed batsman occupying the crease: “[Virat] Kohli has said that he learned from Rafael Nadal the need for and importance of meticulous, almost ritualistic preparation. Before facing each ball, Kohli goes through a long, slow wind-up. He twirls his bat, held between both gloved hands and pointing upwards, six times. It is like the twirl of a racket that a tennis player habitually does... He then screws up his nose, turning his face into a grimace.”
But whenever Bhattacharya ventures into plainly chronicling records, the narrative loses some steam. That is my only quibble in an otherwise immensely readable cricket book.
Bhattacharya’s strength, of course, is his elegant and easy style that would please a purist, a connoisseur of Test cricket.
Whenever he draws on his literary reservoir, Bhattacharya reads like a champion wordsmith. Which other sport writer would quote Philip Larkin to describe the new crop of champions on song at the World Cup Down Under? This is characteristic Bhattacharya: “Watching this process of renewal is one of the most fascinating things in sport. How do these players, so inexperienced, most of them barely in their mid-twenties, seek to fill the abyss left behind by a group of men whose reputations had assumed mythic proportions by the time they left the world stage? It is an exhibition of, to borrow from Philip Larkin, ‘the strength and pain of being young’. Renewal, rebirth, restitution, regeneration. Begin afresh…”
But what appealed to me the most was his ode to Mario Puzo with which he describes Team India’s Captain Cool: “By the time Tendulkar’s farewell Test came around, Dhoni had become a sort of a don in ODI batsmanship. But if he is a Godfather, he is more Al Pacino than Marlon Brando, nerveless, eyes blazing with intensity, as much fire as ice, the possibility of visiting carnage barely suppressed and simmering beneath an unflappable exterior, the violence with the bat ready to boil over when the occasion demands.”