by Venky

For the typical Indian, cricket is the metaphor that signifies the machinations of everyday life; a metaphysical avenue for compensating personal and professional inadequacies and more than anything else a magnet whose inescapable lure may, at the most be resisted but never overcome. Cricket is escapism; cricket is assurance; cricket is the all-encompassing panacea that brooks no opposition or defiance. And it this very essence that is captured in an exhilarating manner by Mr. Boria Majumdar in his riveting work “Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians…. (“the book).

Mr. Majumdar, drawing on his enviable bank of experience and exposure, courtesy the powerful medium of journalism, has produced a work of candour, catharsis and clamor. Covering almost every single series, both home and away (with a few notable exceptions which would be elucidated later) that has seen the Indian cricket team in action, Mr. Majumdar, alternatively, takes us atop peaks of delight and pushes us down the precipices of doom warning us in the process to inculcate a sense of Rudyard Kipling’s immortal equanimity! Suffice it to say it becomes a Herculean task to preserve a sense of equability, considering the fact that a majority of readers perusing the work constitute Indian cricket fans whose USP denotes a sense of fickleness, and who put to sword the cardinal maxim that ‘method is the mother of memory’.

From the pernicious evil that is match fixing to the penchant induced by the erstwhile Pentangular cricket tournament that had its fair share of devotees and detractors alike, Mr. Majumdar, crafts the evolution of Indian cricket with panache and painstaking detail. The meticulous research done by Mr. Majumdar appropriates every page of his work as nothing is left to chance. For instance, in recounting the acrimonious tussle between one of the iconic Indian cricketers, Lala Amarnath and an obstinate member of the Board of Cricket Control in India (“BCCI”), Stanislaus Ignatius D’Mello, Mr. Majumdar has ploughed deeper than an earthworm in digging out archival evidence in the form of written remonstrations exchanged by the warring protagonists.

One of the most exhilarating chapters in Mr. Majumdar’ s work deals with the insidious, insouciant and inappropriate behavior of the BCCI when embroiled in a roiling controversy involving spot fixing in the IPL. Portraying an attitude of a remorseless Caesar, BCCI and its supremo N. Srinivasan, paid scant heed to the findings of the three member Lodha Committee appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the insidious inner maneuvers of cricketers conniving with bookies that lead to infamy, ignominy and the eventual arrest of three Indian cricketers, including the double World Cup winning player, S. Sreesanth. As Mr. Majumdar, queries in an unbiased and impartial manner, were these three cricketers made to don the garb of scapegoats to save the careers of other ‘respectable’ and iconic cricketers? For why else has an envelope embedding thirteen names been confined to the chambers of the highest decision making Apex body in the country, the Supreme Court without being disclosed in the open to the citizens of the nation?

The exponential growth and self-perpetuating success of the Indian Premier League (“IPL”) is recalled in vivid and persuasive detail by Mr. Majumdar. An inextricable nexus of the IPL is the tumultuous story of the man behind the very concept, Mr. Lalit Modi. The hubris of Lalit Modi that transformed him from a pioneer of world cricket’s most exciting variant, to a veritable Pariah, makes for some phenomenal reading. The fact that Lalit Modi still spews venom on social media while being a designated ‘fugitive’ in London epitomizes the proportions taken by cricket in India, which is reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy. The IPL where novices, rookies and initiates rub shoulders with the proven, potentates and the patriarchs, serves as both a scholastic setting for furthering careers as well as a breeding ground for luxury, expropriation and debauchery. It is for the participant to choose on which side of the fence he would like himself to be seen. An agnostic or a fence sitting choice is not on the anvil and is not an option.

But the one fact which warmed the cockles of my heart is the courageous treatment by Mr. Majumdar to the discrimination meted out to the Indian women’s cricket team by the administration, fans and media alike. The indomitable band of warriors led by Mithali Raj have never tasted applause, appropriation or adulation that has been the singular preserve of their male counterparts. However, things took a fortunate turn when Raj and her brave hearts made the finals of the women’s World Cup Tournament in 2017. In a pulsating final that had a billion Indians engrossed, energized and elevated, the Indian women lost by a meagre nine runs. The loss however did not dim the euphoria one single bit and as Mr. Majumdar elucidates in his book, when the Indian cricket team landed home at the ungodly hour of 2.30 A.M, they were greeted by an explosion of flash bulbs and a swarming horde of media personnel craving for some ‘breaking news’ sound bites. As Mithali Raj herself expressed, later, in a press conference, she had not experienced anything similar in the previous eighteen years of her playing career.

While Mr. Majumdar’ s book covers every conceivable and notable facet of the history of Indian cricket, both in the capacity of a reader as well as an incorrigible Indian cricket tragic, I feel the following could have been an essential part of this book:

  1. The Sharjah cricket tournaments which marked the zenith of India-Pakistan rivalry and where denizens, deadly dons and a single year of ‘Desert Storm’ all assumed centre stage and where one single delivery involving Chetan Sharma of India and Javed Miandad of Pakistan cleaved the very sentiments of an entire sub-continent;
  2. The epochal Benson & Hedges victory carved out by India in 1985 where in the final against Pakistan, Ian Chappell (if my memory does not desert me), made a memorable comment to the effect of, “10 Hindus and a Muslim {India with Azharuddin in their midst} taking on 10 Muslims and a Hindu {Pakistan and Anil Dalpat};
  3. Indian cricketers having both memorable and macabre stints in English county cricket – Tendulkar and Dravid for Yorkshire and Kent respectively; Ganguly for Lancashire; Azhar for Derbyshire; Shastri for Glamorgan; Kapil for Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire; Pujara for Yokshire; Sunny Gavaskar for Somerset etc.
  4. The prominence of Ranji Trophy and also its dark and regretful episodes such as Raman Lamba and Rashid Patel chasing each other armed with a stump and a bat across a cricket ground

The immortal Neville Cardus once said, “we remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination”. A true cricket fan, irrespective of his allegiance or nationality would invariably love all things pure and pristine about cricket and Mr. Majumdar has exacerbated and accentuated this love with a work that will reverberate long after its covers have come down.

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