Tag Archives: Gulu Ezekiel

De-mystifying Indian Cricket’s Myths

Harpal Singh Bedi

MYTH-BUSTING: Indian Cricket Behind the Headlines

By Gulu Ezekiel

Price: Rs 295 

Rupa Publications 

There is a myth that Cricket in India  gained popularity after winning the 1983 World Cup as the victory  was directly  beamed to the drawing rooms of  millions of people back home and they felt elated and proud watching Kapil Dev and his men lording at Lords – venue of many a humiliating defeats in the past.  

This is not correct. Cricket has been immensely popular sport in the Sub-continent since 1930s mostly patronized by the Rajas and Nawabs and to some extent by the Britishers.   

After Independence Hockey was declared the National game and it did bring laurels to the country winning three Olympic-gold (!948,52,56) but surprisingly Cricket held its own among the masses despite Indian team’s dismal and often pathetic showing. 

It was indeed ironic to see more books and write up on Indian Cricket players and the team after every disastrous performance while very few if any books at that time came out glorifying Hockey or Football. We have books on and about the former cricketers who wrote about their exploits in domestic circuit and talked emotionally about the defeats they suffered at International level. 

Intriguingly every defeat against West Indies, England, Australia and even Pakistan brought more crowd to the stadiums. Instead of thinning support base, craze for cricket kept growing. 

Every defeat was laced with some myths and few and far victories in that era became a sort of folklore.  

“Cricket around the World is built on myths and Indian cricket is no different. These myths have been repeated ad nauseam over the years till they have come to be accepted as fact”, opines Gulu Ezekiel. 

To demolish these myths and de-glamourize some of the cricketing folklores, Gulu Ezekiel ambarked on a tough, unpopular and arduous journey and the result is the 232-page  book MYTH-BUSTING – Indian Cricket Behind The Headlines

Gulu is a veteran sports journalist but he Lives cricket. This is his 14th book and the second that I am reviewing. 

Reviewing a book written by a friend is a very tough job and on top of it if it is specifically related to cricket because 90 percent chances are that the writer and reviewer both have witnessed so much in common.  

I know Gulu for over two decades and having lavishly praised his previous co-authored book  Speed Merchant, I was apprehensive about this one. But the forward written by Anil Kumble made my job easier     

Kumble sums up the book nicely” Gulu’s attempt to demystify some of these myths of Indian cricket is unique and commendable. His desire to sift fact from fiction and the painstaking research that has clearly gone into the process is evident. Underneath the facts, stories and anecdotes, lies the desire to get rid of some of these existing myths and rumours, in order to   purify this beautiful game.”   

Myth Busting has several startling facts which so far have been camouflaged and one of them is about Ranji.

Ranji Trophy is now a part of Indian cricket’s folklore. The   hallowed tournament named after Shri Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaja Jamsahab of Nawanagar aka Ranji has showcased domestic talent which took the sport in the country to its pinnacle.

In a chapter “Ranji.the legend and the myth” the author quotes first secretary of BCCI Anthony de Mello: “Ranji did absolutely nothing for Indian Sports and Sportsmen” 

In de Mello’s own words: “We approached Ranji with a request that Duleep (Sinhji) be encouraged to bring his cricket talents to the aid of India. To all our requests for aid, encouragement and advice, Ranji, gave but one answer; Duleep and I are English cricketers” 

To this Gulu writes, ‘India’s embracing of the legend and the man, even though he played his major cricket in England and had a hardened disdain for all things connected to Indian cricket, is not unique”.  

There are several myths which have been accepted because they are harmless and amusing. One of them being a imaginary quote attributed to Australian captain “mate you have just dropped the world cup” after his rival dropped a catch in that tournament. 

In India, Salim Durrani, the handsome allrounder was nicknamed the Sixer man who hit a Six whenever the crowd demanded or asked for it. This myth has been punctured by Guu pointing out that though the tall Pathan was a rare talent he hit only 15 sixes in 50 innings.  

Most of the cricket fans lament that because of a strike in BBC they could not watch Kapil Dev’s historic 175 against Zimbabwe in 1983 World Cup.  

Gulu effectively demolishes this myth proving that two other matches on that day Involving England/Pakistan and Australia/west Indies had live telecast. If there was a strike how come these two matches were shown?  

The author also has an answer, because India/Zimbabwe match was not a priority event for the BBC and both the teams were considered rank outsiders. After India’s stunning performance, this canard of strike was spread which became a myth and later accepted as a fact. 

There is detailed chapter on the Tied test titled “Chepauk’s Many Myths”. It is about the test match between India and Australia in 1986 played in what was then Madras.  

The author details the test proceedings with quotes from the players, media persons and umpires that are contradictory. He comes to the conclusion that the tied test after all was not that tied. But as it has been officially recignised as tied test number two, he ends it with a quote from opener K.Srikkanth: “Hay guys, forget the win, we have become part of history”. 

Gulu also challenges another myth that Bishan Bedi virtually surrendered the Test against West Indies by declaring when the team had lost five wickets for 97 at Sabina Park, Jamaica. He shows that there was nothing the skipper could do as other five players were injured and unfit to bat and the story that Indian captain declared in protest is false.         

MYTH-BUSTING is simply unputdownable. – Harpal Singh Bedi

The book is full of reality checks. It also contradicts Farokh Engineer’s assertion of scoring fastest test century from just 47 balls. The dashing wicket keeper batsman has also claimed that he had hit three boundaries off the first three balls he faced on his debut but that claim has also been proved wrong. 

“Engineer is not the first and certainly not the last among many famous sportspersons to embellish his own deeds with colourful stories that have entered cricket folklore and are accepted as gospel truth” (Page198) 

The book also covers Engineer’s sullen reaction after Abid Ali hit the winning run in that historic Oval test in 1971. The Wicketkeeper was on the other end on 28. He  had scored 59 in the first innings.  “Abid rushed out, got a top edge and voila, we were home and Abid was a hero, never mind how he got the run”.

Except that it was not a top edge, it was a square cut to the boundary and the video footage is freely available (page 206).   

There are several other intriguing myths perpetuated for decades – like “Mankading” which have been de-mystified by Gulu. The book also vividly recalls Indian cricket’s Grand Slam moments from June 1983 to March 1985. Details Kapil Dev’s era Before and After. Younger generations aggressiveness epitomized by Virat Kohli etc.

As Anil Kumble writes “The true hero of this book is Gulu” and he is absolutely correct.   

Myth – Busting is not any other cricket book. It is a well documented thesis that’s very absorbing funny and hilarious some time and and as it’s jacket proclaims it is a cricket connoisseur’s delight. 

SPEED MERCHANTS – The Story Of Indian Pace Bowling

SPEED MERCHANTS – The Story Of Indian Pace Bowling (1880-2019)

Authors:  Gulu Ezekiel and Vijay Lokapally Publisher: Bloomsbury 
Book Review: Harpal Singh Bedi

The situation changed dramatically with the advent of Kapil Dev. The Floodgates really opened in the new millennium with Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Khan leading a revolution that today sees India’s pace attack as among the best in the World

The SPEED MERCHANTS is a  mandatory referral book for any future work on Indian Cricket Literature.   

It is always a tough job to review a book written by friend(s). It is more difficult to critically look at a sports book in India.The reason being that most of the sports books have been and are being penned by sports journalists and mostly the reviewers also belong to that small tribe.

Any lavish praise of the book is dismissed as “back scratching of fellow journalist” and criticism is taken as frustrated comments by a scribe who has yet to come to terms with the success of the writer(s).

With market being flooded with books on Individual cricketers/coaches it is becoming increasingly arduous to be an impartial reviewer. However, SPEED MERCHANTS The Story of Indian Pace Bowling (1880-2019) written by Gulu Ezekiel and Vijay Lokapally is one of the rare sports book in recent times which spares the reviewer from being overtly effusive to harshly critical.              
To start with, the writers Gulu and Vijay have impeccable credentials as sports writers. Their understanding of Cricket needs no certification and this book SPEED MERCHANTS is their most valuable contribution to cricket literature in the country.

As I mentioned, this book to a friend and talked about the contribution of the fast bowlers in the early era, he stumped me with a query. He wanted to know what the authors have written about B S Chandershekher.

Surprised, I replied “bhai the book is about fast bowlers” and pat came his reply: “Polio stricken spinner Chandru was much faster than several pace bowlers who have represented the country.

That aside, this 285-page book is refreshing in many aspects. It is well researched and interview-based document bereft of mushy stories. There are no rag to riches characters who kept red ball under their pillows while asleep. The narrative is simple, straightforward and gripping. While the BCCI bosses wanted Batsmen to do well against the Speed Merchants from West Indies, Australia, England and even Pakistan but they preferred grooming spinners at the expanse of the seamers.  

Though the scenario now has changed as Rahul Dravid in his foreword wrote: “Today I am glad to see a horde of young fast bowlers competing for a place in the team. The One-Day format has seen many new faces in the Indian team and I am sure in the coming season or two India is going to be enriched with the services of a couple of impactful young fast bowlers.” 

The book, with a Rs 499 price tag, takes the reader to the bygone era of Mohammed Nassir and Ladhabhai Amar Singh Nakum and his elder brother, Ladhabhai Ramji Nakum, aka the Kathiawar terror, who was perhaps the most fearsome in terms of pace and intimidation during his era and had experienced foreign batsmen running for cover.

“MJ Gopalan Sarobindu Nath (Shute Banerjee, Mubarak M Salahuddin Syed Nazir Ali (the first Indian bowler to capture the wicket of Don Bradman, playing for the Club Cricket Conference at Lord’s against the touring Australians in September 1930 and Dev Raj Puri—who played a small but historic part in Indian Cricket—all these bowlers would surely have made a name for themselves on the World stage if India’s Test debut had come in the 1920s rather than 1932” (p 6). 

Gulu, who has written first four chapters of the book, takes the readers back to an era when fast bowlers ruled the roost and Indian batsmen/bowlers strutted, stumbled, fumbled and some time came up with a brilliant performance.

His narration of 1952 Headingly Test when India lost first four wickets without a run on the scoreboard before Dattu, Phadkar and Hazare added 105 for the sixth wicket is superb.

It is clear from the book that most of the Captains till the arrival of Kapil Dev had no confidence in the fast bowlers, About 20 pacers who did well in the domestic circuit played one test each and were discarded. Twelve played only two tests each. Such a waste of talent, time Energy and money.

Pataudi had more faith in Jaisimha than regular pace bowlers like Ramakant Desai or Vasant Ranjane. Delhi swing bowler Rajinder Pal never got another look after one test while bits and pieces all rounders like Rusi Surti, Abid  Ali and Eknath Solkar mostly bowled to take  the shine off the ball for the spinners.

Some genuine fast bowlers failed to get even one test and Maharashtra’s Pandurang Salgaoncar was one of them. He feels that in his hay days (early 70s) he bowled as fast as Nissar,  ”Our country rarely heard of fast bowlers back then. I Should have got the chance but was playing for a poor association”  

Wadekar also depended heavily on the spin quartet and Pacers failed to make their mark in absence of any encouragement from the officials running the sport in the country. “However situation changed dramatically with the advent of Kapil Dev. The Floodgates really opened in the new millennium with Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Khan leading a revolution that today sees India’s pace attack as among the best in the World.”

There is a chapter on the role of the MRF Pace Academy and in the words of Vivek Razdan “The Academy was the best thing to happen to Indian Cricket. With a Guru like Lillee, we learnt the basics of fast bowling well. It was specialised training and there was so much to learn”. A total of 18-full time trainees from MRF Pace Foundation have represented India.  

David  Frith, the leading cricket historian and author of over 30 books, in his two-page introduction  beautifully sums up the excellent narration of Indian cricket’s pace bowling history.

Frith writes: “Kapil wasn’t a tearaway bowler, he was for some years the best that India had. I’ve studied films of the Lord’s Test played by India in 1932 when Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh opened the bowling effectively in their country’s maiden Test match and again in 1936 (before I was born, I hasten to point out, if not by much: indeed I must have been conceived around that time). 
“Precious footage shows Nissar and Amar bowling England out for 134 (13 runs behind India’s opening innings). Alas for India, as four years earlier on that same famous ground, their batsmen failed to back up that smart bowling and defeat followed.

“Zoom forward 47 years and that World Cup victory over the West Indies at the same Lord’s ground brought thrills and unbridled delight to the Indian spectators in attendance and to the countless numbers at home in front of their TV screens. Whether it’s something to do with improved diet, or modern fitness training India has not of late been short of quality fast bowlers, which for long had been the missing link. “Meanwhile, the reader can enjoy reliving some of the special times when the pacemen did their stuff for their country.”

Gulu Ezekiel and Vijay  Lokapally have produced  a seminal work and both deserve kudos for this. The SPEED MERCHANTS is a  mandatory referral book for any future work on Indian Cricket Literature.        

The book relives the trauma tragedy glory of 100 years of Indian cricket and is also a tribute to several unsung and unheralded cricketers who fell by the way side due to lack of patronage or the whims and fancies of the powers that be.                  

HSB