These Gods have feet of clay

Kirti Patil
Saturday, 7 July 2018

In a country that worships a billion gods, those eleven men, who get to wear national colours, are few and far between.

Every sport has its stories that could fill up libraries, and so does cricket. Though the game is played at a serious level only in a handful of countries, there are scores of untold stories that have power to keep readers glued to the written word. Boria Majumdar plays with that very essence — the zeal with which cricket is followed in India — to narrate some untold tales intertwined with events that unfolded over the years to make his 450-page account readable. There are a few gaps though in his new book Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians but one can discount that as the writer’s discretion. 

In a country that worships billion gods, those eleven men, who get to wear national colours, are few and far between. Every team selection has many stories to which those billion Indians are not privy to. Majumdar writes many of those instances, known and forgotten. 

Despite all the drama off the field, two things have remained constant for a while. One: India’s performance. The team has done well consistently, very well in home conditions, in fact, and has shown signs of being competitive overseas under Kohli’s leadership….Off the field, there seems to be a semblance of order behind all the chaos... writes Majumdar.

No doubt the author had access to cricketers and administrators over the years — starting as cricket fan to developing into a commentator and journalist rolled into one. Eleven Gods…is not his first book, but with this weighty volume Majumdar hopes to join the list of cricket writers. No doubt Majumdar likes to call himself a cricket historian — a part of his email ID has an interesting word ‘cristorian’—  but he would do well to stay connected with this sport rather than becoming self-appointed spokesperson for the Indian media.

Like the needless caste system, sports journalism in India unfortunately differentiates cricket journalists and ‘others’. No cricket writer would know the theatrics Majumdar did in Rio because they aren’t bothered about what happens outside of cricket’s influence. Being a consulting editor of a news channel, Majumdar, for the first time, entered into a domain outside cricket when he travelled to Rio to cover the 2016 Olympic Games.

I am bringing up this episode here in relation to this book because now Majumdar proposes to write his next book on badminton, a sport that he hasn’t seen at the highest level as he has watched cricket. 
Not hold back, not be politically correct, and not hide facts…to write an accurate historical account of Indian cricket one needs to first understand that it is not simply a history of what is happening on the field. That is only a part of it. What is played off the field is equally important and fascinating. These two stories which run concurrently on and off the field make Indian cricket what it is,” he writes. 

One of the memorable sections of this book is the one that includes archival photographs, letters, posters, scorecards, autographs etc. Interestingly, the back jacket shows the letter from the Cricket Advisory Committee written to the BCCI on June 17, 2017 at the height of the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble standoff. None other than the Indian cricketing triumvirate — Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman — signed this letter.

In his epilogue, Majumdar closes with his encounter with a woman outside Eden Gardens in Kolkata selling candy. This was the same woman whom the writer had encountered many times while coming to watch cricket or Kolkata’s local league football. This time, it was outside an IPL match. He writes, This lady selling candy was a reminder of the time when cricket was a sport, not an industry: a time when 100,000 people would stand in serpentine queues for tickets to watch Test cricket at the Eden Gardens. 

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