New pitch: When cricketers turn raconteurs
Raconteuring is an art form that does not come easily to everybody. Holding the attention of an audience for an hour or more requires not just felicity with words, but a fine sense of timing, and a keen understanding of what people expectUpdated: Dec 06, 2019 02:12 IST
Farokh Engineer was in roaring form as keynote speaker at the 11th Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture the other day at the CCI, reeling off stories and anecdotes as rapidly as he would score runs in his heyday. I can’t remember a single voice saying it wasn’t an evening well spent.
Heading into his mid-80s, Engineer’s once sinewy frame has bloated extraordinarily. Over the past few years, whenever we’ve met, he would joke about his girth himself, claiming righteously that Parsi genes have ensured his good health, which is why he has never stopped having a blast!
Clearly, while the circumference of his waistline has affected his gait, it has not made Engineer’s ready wit rickety or unsteady. Even the skirmish with Diana Edulji, former Indian women’s team captain, was handled dexterously. Edulji was miffed at a recent statement given by Engineer, claiming that those in the recently dissolved Committee Of Administrators did not know much about the game. Edulji had reason to feel aggrieved, having played 30 Tests herself. Engineer extricated himself from a precarious foot-in-mouth situation with deft wordplay, assuaging Edulji’s feelings and also keeping the audience amused.
Raconteuring is an art form that does not come easily to everybody. The skill is rare. Holding the attention of an audience for an hour or more requires not just felicity with words, but a fine sense of timing, and a keen understanding of what people expect. There is no bigger turn-off than insipid conversation with the audience, however meaningful the context or occasion. An accomplished storyteller might jumble facts and mix metaphors, but will carry the day if he has the ‘pulse’ of his audience. A sense of humour, with ability to laugh at oneself, is a decided advantage.
I’ve often wondered whether cricketers make better raconteurs than those from other disciplines. There is no study or research to suggest this, of course, so detractors please don’t start hurling admonitions. Yet the fact that cricket is played over so much time (Tests particularly) gives much more opportunity surely for interactions and interplays that can make for rich anecdotes. Think of the amount of time the slip fielders and wicketkeeper spend together in a series!
This does not mean all cricketers make good raconteurs (as distinct from pranksters). There are quite a few I’ve known to be dull, prosaic, too self-obsessed, some dim-witted to even carry out a two-minute long conversation, leave aside the ability to win over a live audience.
Interestingly, one from the audience at the Sardesai Lecture, after hearing Engineer, asked me whether current players enjoyed the game as much, and shared as much time with fellow players to leave behind treasurable memories.
Why not? Times change and the ethos in which the game is being played has changed. But sharing ideas, experiences, the fellow feeling that keeps a team together, and individual players attached to the sport – indeed human nature — haven’t changed much.
Anecdotes and stories reflect the culture and milieu of that particular era, but these will be as abundant today as in the past. I have no first-hand knowledge, but I think Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma would be bursting with anecdotes, and have fine articulation too.
From the not-too-distant past, I understand Sachin Tendulkar, now unburdened of pressure, is not only chilled out, but is a bundle of fantastic stories and remembrances. So too Ganguly, who I’ve seen in his elements once while journeying from Dharamshala to Amritsar. Surely there are several more.
My favourites, though, are from the Engineer era, because I’ve been weaned on that. All are former captains. Sunil Gavaskar is a maestro at not just recalling terrific stories, but is also a fantastic mimic. Bishen Bedi can light up any evening with his humour, and over a long evening, spice it up with bawdy Punjabi to have you in splits.
Ajit Wadekar was distinctive because of staccato style of speaking, which required some fill-in-the-blank work for the audience. But after doing that, he could be uproariously funny, and would smile shyly in his own moustache at his own cleverness. Then there was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. A man usually of few words, but none wasted, and laced usually with dry, laconic wit. At a cricket function in Delhi in 2010, if I remember correctly, he came up with this classic line to bring the house down. “The BCCI claims to be the voice of cricket, when everything it does shows it to be the invoice of cricket.”