A kind of anthology women’s cricket always yearned for

Kirti Patil
Saturday, 19 January 2019

THE FIRE BURNS BLUE
A History of  Women’s Cricket in India
Authors: Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik
Publisher: Westland Sport
Pages: 479
Price: Rs 799

Non-fictional books are of diverse types; they can be literary masterpieces or plain informative ones or then narratives that engage readers with insightful and informative content. The Fire Burns Blue —A History of Women’s Cricket in India is of encyclopaedic genre that gives you plenty of information collected through painstaking research as authors Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik mention in the overview. But there is an inherent voice throughout the pages bawling about the lack of literature on women’s cricket.

Hitherto, there has been very little literature available on women’s cricket. Now two books have been written on the subject, one is Free Hit written by Suprita Das, and the second is this one. Since I have read both, I can say that both the books have penned the same story of the beginning and the evolution of women’s cricket. But this one narrates it in a different style. The Fire Burns Blue is for those who want to know what went into making of the Indian women cricketers, without the dash of drama. Sharda Ugra in her foreword says that The Fire Burns... is not made for the headline-grabbing, controversy-creating bestseller list. It takes one to the days of yore when cricket for women was fun and an instrument to match boys, unlike today when selection of coach makes it to the top headline of a newspaper’s sports pages.

Even as Keshav and Patnaik intended to keep the book in the format of an anthology on Indian women’s cricket, the chapters are replete with interesting stories; some unread, many known. Elaborative match descriptions also creep in now and then as it is sometimes necessary for the context. The early chapters  — The Enigma of Arrival, Before the Beginning, The Train Gathers Speed, Friends from Faraway Lands and The Dance of Patna — are interesting read. The story is told rightly through the eyes of the players and administrators who played a key role in the making of Indian women’s cricket. The stories of borrowed bats were known and another story of 1986 England Tour when India slowed their rate to a 7-overs-an-hour crawl in pursuit of a draw in the first Test, has been treated fairly as that incident almost tugged at diplomatic strings.

Keshav and Patnaik have also dared to handle and put forth unspoken issues that women have to deal with. How the protagonists dealt with one’s menstrual period in the middle of a vital match — this is something that would have never appeared in newspaper reports. Do readers really have to know about it? Why not? When Steffi Graf was in her prime, a year after she achieved the Golden Slam, she was clear favourite to take the French Open crown at Roland Garros, but lost to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. That was Graf’s only Grand Slam defeat in two years. She won eight of the nine Grand Slam tournaments from the 1988 Australian Open — 1990 Australian Open and the defeat prevented her from completing a second consecutive Grand Slam. Not much has been written about what happened to her during the final, but a few European papers did report that she suffered inflight due to the onset of her period.

The effort to put forth ‘A history’ must have been enormous without doubt and cricket without numbers would be fashion without divas. But too much of statistics and match-situation narration makes the book too academic. There are anecdotes and human stories interspersed within the chapters, but unfortunately most of it is from interviews of the past players — the era when women’s cricket went almost unreported.

In the effort to put all the information collected, the book has run into 500-odd pages. Overall though, The Fire Burns Blue is like that one long six Harmanpreet Kaur hit against Australia in that exceptional knock in the World Cup semi-final, and the victory that followed. The sport was never the same again and an indifferent nation awoke to the possibilities of women’s cricket, which now is making headlines now and then, for both right and wrong reasons.

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