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Shooting the Wisden messenger

Lawrence Booth, the new editor of Wisden, has taken quite a bit of abuse from Indian fans. He has given offence by suggesting Indian Test cricket might be suffering because of over reliance on the part of the BCCI on Twenty20.

And England’s star batsman Kevin Pietersen has backed IPL and accused the English of “jealousy”.

Booth, who at 37 is the youngest Wisden editor in 72 years, has used an introductory article in the “cricketers’ Bible” to make the following point about India’s 4-0 defeats in England and in Australia: “The disintegration of India’s feted batting line-up has co- incided with the rise of a Twenty20-based nationalism, the growth of private marketeers and high-level conflicts of interest. It is a perfect storm. And the global game sits steadily in the eye. India, your sport needs you.”

When I speak to Booth, he assures me he is not against Twenty20. Indeed, he has been to India “seven or eight times” and watched some thrilling Twenty20 games.

He tells me: “I have been getting a bit of abuse on Twitter from some Indian fans who think I am just an India basher. It’s far from the case. It’s my favourite country to watch cricket in and I totally understand its importance to not just the economics of the world game, but the atmosphere and the mood and the colour that it brings. But if they continue to put an increasing number of eggs into the Twenty20 basket then Test cricket will inevitably suffer not just there but everywhere else.”

“My only concern is for the well-being of cricket,” he declares. “The last thing I wanted to was to see India lose 4-0 last summer (in England).”

On Kevin Pietersen, he offers this rejoinder: “I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else — he is being paid a lot by Delhi Daredevils.”

“No one in world cricket wants to see the Indian Test team struggle and Indian fans lose interest in it,” Booth goes on. “The two four-nil defeats were not just bad for Indian cricket; they were bad for the world game because the world game needs India.”

Booth says: “I may be English but I try and take an internationalist perspective. India are the most powerful country in world cricket. That’s fine, someone has to be. I just want them to run the game with an eye beyond their own boundaries.”

To be sure, Indian crowds love Twenty20 but perhaps we should also acknowledge that there is some wisdom in Wisden.

Book mart

At this year’s London Book Fair, the “focus country” was China, just as India was in 2009 — and as Turkey will be next year.

So what are the Chinese reading? I made a valiant though not entirely successful attempt to find out, wandering from one Chinese stand to another. At one stand were displayed Chinese translations of all the novels of Charles Dickens as well as Harry Potter. (Incidentally, J.K. Rowling’s publisher, Little, Brown, displayed a fetching photograph of the author, confirming it will be publishing The Casual Vacancy, her “new novel for adults” in September.)

According to Mo Siewcharran, head of marketing (international) at Nielsen, which measures sales of English books, publishing is booming in India. But it is harder to know what the Chinese are reading in Chinese, she says.

My guess is that there is probably a big market in China for translations of those big name Indian authors who are promoted in the West. India is more tuned to Western writers but flicking through the catalogues of the Chinese publishers, it is apparent there is a sea of stories, old and new, waiting to be discovered.

What slightly disappointed me was that the young Chinese assistants at the stands nearly all appeared to be singularly ill- informed.

“Have you read this novel?”

“No.”

“What is it about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is there someone who can tell me what people in China are reading?”

“No.”

At times, I thought they were practising to be Indian. I was sorry no one seemed to have heard of the Water Margin.

On the other hand, these are early days for Chinese book fairs abroad. We should have one in Calcutta.

Best bargain

Perhaps I can connect bookshops in Calcutta with companies like Book Country Clearing House from the city of Mc-Keesport in Pennsylvania.

Its sales associate, Jerry Yankello, tells me: “We buy up books that publishers intend to pulp or remainder — and we offer them at 85 per cent off the list price plus 7 per cent tax. We have 10 million books and 40,000 titles at our warehouse.”

Yankello had chosen 2,500 books for London. Ian McEwan’s Atonement was being offered for $3 against a list price of 14.95, and V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River had been knocked down from $13.95 to $2.50.

“We have booksellers who come from Delhi,” says Yankello. “They buy from several clearing houses and load up a container with 40,000 books and ship it back.”

Even with a shop’s mark up, the reader is assured of getting the best books from the West at bargain prices.

Birthday girl

Doughty actress Zohra Segal is a little too frail to make the journey from Delhi but her admirers will be celebrating her 100th birthday at the Nehru Centre in London.

It is worth pointing out that Zohra was born into an aristocratic Muslim family in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, on April 27, 1912 — two years before the start of the World War I and 13 days before the sinking of the Titanic.

Zohra has enjoyed a long film, television and stage career in Britain, having arrived in the country in 1962 at the age of 50. In Gurinder Chadha’s 1993 film, Bhaji on the Beach, Zohra’s character is shown spicing up (bland English) chips with a generous sprinkling of chilli powder.

In retrospect, this gesture is seen by some as a metaphor for the Indian presence in Britain.

Movie buff

Amartya Sen flitted through London on his way from somewhere to somewhere, as is his wont, to discuss “A future for cultural industries” with Lord (Nicholas) Stern of the London School of Economics.

Such is Sen’s pulling power that the event at the 800-seat Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank was sold out — and half the audience was non-Indian.

Stern is IG Patel professor of economics and government at the London School of Economics and author of a 2006 landmark report on climate change.

What was most interesting was Sen’s disclosure: “Casablanca is one of my favourite films.”

Sen is probably an old romantic at heart.

Isn’t there a line in the 1942 classic, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, which goes, “Of all the seminars in all the universities in all the world, she walks into mine”?

Tittle tattle

Liz Hurley has braved “the curse of Hello!” by giving a joint interview with Shane Warne to the glossy magazine.

It will be recalled Hello! paid her a reported 2 million for access to her 2007 wedding to Arun Nayar.

Given Warne’s record, it is odd he didn’t find romance in Rajasthan.