Ramachandra Guha’s The Commonwealth of Cricket: a delightful sporting memoir

Guha, one of India’s best-known historians and public intellectuals, is a bona fide cricket obsessive.

Early on in this delightful memoir, Ramachandra Guha recounts the first time he shook hands with a Test cricketer. It was the summer of 1970 and Guha was 12 years old at the time. The cricketer was GR Viswanath, who, months previously, had scored a century on Test debut against Australia. On a Bangalore street, Guha and his uncle were in a car when the uncle spotted Viswanath on a scooter and called out to him to stop. The cricketer did, and uncle and nephew emerged from the car and shook hands with the man who is now remembered as one of the finest and most elegant Indian batsmen of his generation. “That incident,” Guha writes, “says ­something about the times – which Test cricketer now would ride a scooter?” Indeed, which Indian Test cricketer would now travel without an entourage and allow such an impromptu, unmeditated roadside encounter with a fan?

The Commonwealth of Cricket traces the arc between those times and the present, when to be a successful Indian cricketer is to be a superstar in a country of 1.3 billion people, to have the doors opened to staggering wealth and privileges. It is a journey of fandom that begins when India played few Tests and finally portrays a contemporary reality in which India is a cricketing superpower and administrative bully boy.

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Guha, one of India’s best-known historians and public intellectuals, is a bona fide cricket obsessive. He writes with as much fondness of club cricketers as Test greats, with as much intensity about a college game as about an international one. From childhood onwards, he reads voraciously, building a library of cricket books. He revels in the fan’s enduring parlour game of making up all-time XIs. He listens to the cricket on the radio; he cuts short a family holiday to attend the tense final day of a Ranji Trophy match; he tries to be present at his home ground in Bangalore for every match that he can, and when he can’t, he devours the game on television. Often, it seems as though life is what happens between overs. He plays until his early twenties (without much distinction, he tells us). After that, he watches with the keenness of the true cricket tragic. It brings to mind the literary critic Ian Hamilton’s line: “I don’t play much football, but you should watch me watch it.”

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But Guha is a particular type of fan: catholic in his admiration of cricketers; internationalist in his outlook; and inclusive in his taste. His deep knowledge of the game allows him to bring a historian’s perspective when writing about players. Here is Guha on the Pakistan cricketer Inzamam-ul-Haq: “It has always seemed to me that the relationship of Inzamam-ul-Haq to Sachin Tendulkar was similar to that of Wally Hammond to Don Bradman… Tendulkar remained the greatest cricketer of …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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