Literary cricket fan? Don’t miss this one
As India’s miserable tour of England draws towards a close, here comes a book of cricket writing that no India fan should do without.
Gideon Haigh is one of the most erudite, perceptive and witty writers on the game today. Sphere of Influence (subtitled ‘Writings on cricket and its discontents’) is an anthology of essays that have been published over the past several years. These essays are sheer delight (and we shall return to some of them soon); but the opening section, titled What Just Happened, and written especially for this book, alone makes it worth the price of admission.
With clarity, insight and few false steps, Haigh charts how the Board of Control for Cricket in India has gone from being a dowdy body that had, at the time of the 1983 World Cup, Rs 200,000 in its exchequer, to the behemoth that it has now become, exercising undisputed global hegemony and marginalising what is still in name the game’s apex organization, the International Cricket Council. Haigh is especially good on the dramatic rise and spectacular fall of Lalit Modi – the man who revolutionized cricket with the IPL, and then became a scapegoat as things started unravelling.
For those of us who are agonising about why the Indian team in England was not better prepared, why certain players did not skip the IPL for surgery and instead turned up unfit for the marquee series, and why India’s schedule after the England tour should involve one-day internationals against the West Indies and England at home in a run-up to the away series against Australia, the opening section of the book will offer some explanations. The Indian board has always been seen as avaricious and obsessed with making money at the expense of the long-term interests of the game, but to see it all in perspective – especially at a time like this – is illuminating.
But the game is nothing really without its players, and Haigh is superb when he is writing about the legends of the modern game. His essays on Sachin Tendulkar (in one of them, he turns an innings at the MCG in which Tendulkar was out for a duck into a meditation on the great batsman’s allure across the world), Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne are pitch perfect. The section titled Giants of Asia will be of particular interest to readers in this part of the world. Not all these essays have aged equally well, but that is only to be expected when stuff written for a specific moment and for a specific publication is brought between covers.
Like all true cricket fans, Haigh is an ardent admirer of Test matches, and an indefatigable defender of the longest, most demanding and most rewarding of all formats of cricket. This essay – which appeared in June this year on cricinfo – is not in the book, but it will be a taster of what is in it.
If you are a cricket fan, and a literary one at that, this is a book your shelf should not be without:
Sphere Of Influence
by Gideon Haigh
Simon & Schuster
Soumya Bhattacharya is on twitter @soumya1910