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Sports memoirs are a delight and a challenge

What to put in and leave out can be most vexing for sportspersons. It can be a tug-of-war with the self.

mumbai Updated: Jan 12, 2018 00:18 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Ayaz Memon,autobiographies
Sanjay Manjrekar launched his autobiography in Mumbai on Wednesday

The launch of Sanjay Manjrekar’s autobiography on Wednesday in a SoBo restaurant was a modest, but warm affair. Family, friends, a sprinkling of sports writers, a few BCCI officials, and a host of former cricketers – from Mumbai and elsewhere – formed the bulk of the attendees.

Oftentimes book launches are made to become an `event’ for grabbing `eyeballs’ for an audience not present. The accompanying razzmatazz tends to accentuate the celebrity quotient and can overwhelm the main purpose, which is to meet the author and get some understanding about his or her work.

Getting former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar to officially release the book was nice touch. Vengsarkar, as Manjrekar revealed, had fought tooth and nail to get him on the tour to the West Indies in 1989 — where he scored a lot of runs — even though the selectors had remained skeptical.

This is a distinguishing feature among sportspersons compared to those in other vocations, professions and pursuits.

Of course sportspersons can also be vain and egoistic, like all of us, but have an admirable ability to override this and give credit where it is due. However successful they may become, (by and large) they will humbly acknowledge the role played by a coach, selector, captain, colleague who helped them get a ’leg up’ — that crucial contribution — in their formative or struggling years.

Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, never let his demigod status obscure the role played his childhood coach Ramakant Achrekar. Current superstar Vorat Kohli make it a point to always credit his first coach Rajkumar Sharma for what he is today.

Inevitably, a great part of the conversations among guests at the book launch was about India’s defeat against South Africa two days earlier. There was a lot of cluck-clucking among the former players at the dismal batting of the top order which undid the splendid performance of bowlers.

The crux of the post-mortem centred around Rohit Sharma, who played and Ajinkya Rahane, was consigned to the reserves. There were as many pros as cons, but for me this was academic. What was more relevant was the irony.

Both Rohit and Rahane are from Mumbai which has produced unarguably the highest number of high quality batsmen to play for India, renowned for their resilience. In the Cape Town Test, we had one who made little impact and another who did not make the cut to be in the playing XI.

This was a double whammy, and a reminder of what I’ve argued a few times in these columns: That Mumbai’s pre-eminent position in India cricket is no longer a given. Players from other cities have not only caught up, but are getting ahead.

Coming back to Manjrekar’s book, I am delighted even at the fact that he has deigned to write one. For a sport that commands so much passion in the country, books — especially autobiographies — are inexplicably few and far in between.

Tiger’s Tale (by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi), Sunny Days (Sunil Gavaskar), My Cricketing Years (Ajit Wadekar), One More Over (EAS Prasanna), Straight From The Heart (Kapil Dev), Playing It My Way (Sachin Tendulkar) are the ones I remember top of mind. There are obviously more, but not too many alas. In many ways, the history of Indian cricket as seen by players, remains largely anecdotal. While this form of storytelling has undeniable charm, it does not necessarily retain the authenticity that is crucial for posterity.

Why is this so? Largely because writing a book (even ghosted) demands a diligence and discipline that may not come naturally to players. Equally (some argue more importantly), books are not necessarily financially rewarding. It is more lucrative to write a column or give a TV interview.

In any case, autobiographies are the most difficult to pen. Since sportspersons are public figures, so much is already known about them. What to put in and leave out can be most vexing. It can be a tug-of-war with the self.

Two of the best autobiographies I have read in recent times has been John McEnroe’s ‘Serious’, and Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’. Both amazingly candid, providing fascinating insights into their minds. Heck, who would have thought that Agassi actually loathed playing tennis?

The title of Manjrekar’s book, ‘Imperfect’, is along similar lines which suggests it is provocative, opinionated and driven by some insightful soul-searching.

Reading it over the weekend to seems the perfect way to find out.

First Published: Jan 12, 2018 00:18 IST