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CRICKET THROUGH THE EYES OF HISTORY

And God created cricket: An irreverent history of the greatest game on earth By Simon Hughes, Black Swan, Rs 499

Simon Hughes is an established, award-winning writer on cricket. He combines the knowledge he has gained as a former cricketer with witty penmanship. This time he has attempted a short history of the game.The book, And God Created Cricket, has a sub-title, “An Irreverent History of the Greatest Game on Earth”. He discusses some significant issues which have been forgotten by the ill-informed section of the modern media.

To begin with, the author talks about nearly forgotten players who have left an indelible mark on the game. Charles Burgess Fry (picture) was an academician as well as a sportsman. He was a scholar, international cricket captain, soccer player, world-renowned athlete and a League of Nations statesman. He was also a pioneer in developing cross-batted on-side strokes, not very often used in the 1880s. Fry’s high intellect made him rebel against the existing traditions. He cut quite a handsome sight when he went on the back foot and pulled the ball from the off-side to the untenanted leg-side.

Similarly, the author has acknowledged Ted Dexter’s magnificent contribution to the evolution of cricket. Dexter has been given the credit for giving shape to the modern concept of limited over cricket way back in the 1960s. At that time, both the Test and first-class cricket matches, were fast losing appeal and the gate receipts began to dwindle. Dexter’s idea of limiting the number of overs and restricting cricket to a one-day affair was a revolutionary change.

Even the so-called modern idea of fielders wearing microphones and chatting with commentators can be traced back to the early 1960s. Richie Benaud, then at his prime as a player, and Denis Compton, were the some of the first fieldsmen with mics-on-ears that enabled them to chat with Brian Johnston for Rothman’s International Cavaliers in friendly Sunday limited over fixtures. Even brass bands and loud music have all been a part of the Caribbean cricket culture since the early 1950s, way before the Indian Premier League popularised the concept of entertainment and cricket.

Although no claim has been made that this book is likely to cover the complete history of cricket, the usual references to the year 1300, Edward I, Weald of Kent exist as do the early exponents like Billy Beldham and William Lambert. The author has found some space for people from the distant lands who enriched cricket: Constantine and Headley, Spofforth and Bannerman.

But what about India’s contribution to cricket? Unfortunately the manner in which he handles Indian cricket does not do justice to his writing. To say that the Ranji Trophy is a tournament “contested by five major Indian zones” displays complete ignorance not only of the Indian domestic cricket structure but also of the geography of the country. What does “five major Indian zones” mean? In today’s world such mistakes are unpardonable.

Again, sadly, he has deviated into fiction when he writes that the Indian cricket board president, N.K.P. Salve, wanted two extra tickets for the 1983 World Cup final for two friends who had arrived from India. The two tickets he asked for were not just for two mere friends, but for the Indian ambassador to the United States of America, Siddhartha Shankar Ray and his wife Maya. India was playing the final and he had every right to ask for tickets for two prominent citizens. By common courtesy, two tickets should have been granted then and there. That the tickets were not given is an example of British arrogance and it led to India flexing her muscles. Salve, a man of great integrity and self-respect, ended England’s monopoly of hosting the world cup. Since then the world cup was taken out of England and rightfully organized around all the major cricketing nations of the world. Hughes should have looked into the issue with an open frame of mind.

Thankfully, Christina Willis’s contribution of introducing over the arm bowling in cricket has not been forgotten. Nor is Bernard Bosanquet’s discovery of the googly.

Surprisingly the outstanding contributions of the non-English players have been overlooked. The flipper was first delivered by the Australian cricketer, Arthur Mailey. He taught it to Clarrie Grimmett, who later inspired Benaud and Warne. None could emulate Rohan Kanhai’s falling sweep, yet the Guyanese has been forgotten. As also Douglas Marillier of Zimbabwe, the man who invented the scoop shot over the wicket-keeper’s head.

This is the weakness of this narrative. Cricket outside of Britain has been covered in a very lopsided manner. Match manipulations and betting have been covered, but the narrative gives an impression that the Asian countries are more to blame for it. To keep to the right side of the Establishment, the names of many key offenders have been omitted. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were named by Justice Qayyum in his report on bribery and betting. Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja were expelled by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Alec Stewart, Shane Warne, Mark Waugh, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee, among a host of others, have been at the receiving end of the perils of bribery and betting. But the author has very tactfully avoided mentioning many prominent names.

As for sledging and gamesmanship, the blame has been put on the Australian captain of the 1920s, Warwick Armstrong. Certainly, Armstrong was no saint. But the player who pioneered the art of sledging was none other than the revered W.G. Grace. Apocryphal perhaps, but it is recorded that Grace had the habit of not only bullying players but umpires as well. He was also the first to resort to gamesmanship when he managed to run out a batsman who went out of the crease. Even in the so-called golden age of cricket, the Britons would often take undue advantage whenever the opportunity arose. Actually, one of the modern British innovations in the field of cricket comes to mind — players urinating on the cricket pitch (Oval 2013). This fact has been tactfully swept under the carpet by modern cricketer-turned-writers.

The attitude of Simon Hughes towards India and his habit of defending England’s faults reflect the typical case of the insular approach of some Britons. The book does not fairly represent the real world of cricket.