The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India By Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik, Westland Sport, Rs 799
Two years ago, the Indian women’s cricket team captured the country’s imagination with a stupendous performance at the World Cup — a tournament few Indians might have watched had the men’s cricket team not lost miserably to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy that was played at around the same time. The sports journalists, Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik, took this opportunity to write The Fire Burns Blue, easily one of the finest books on cricket history in the country, and the first on the history of Indian women’s cricket. They trace the promising origins of women’s cricket in the 1970s, when a crowd running into thousands was not unusual at matches, to its gradual relegation to the periphery on account of administrative indifference and the men’s success in the World Cup in 1983.
Context is of utmost importance in The Fire Burns Blue — it views women’s cricket in the light of sports, the status of women in Indian society and the daunting task of overcoming deep-rooted cultural prejudices and internalised misogyny. The book also tells us that women cricketers were not afraid to speak up for themselves even in the 1970s, when it must have been anything but easy to be a woman in sports. In 1986, when the English team and media accused them of trying to delay matches during the England tour, the Indian women stood firm and even unleashed a scathing counteroffensive. This was not unlike the notorious ‘Monkeygate’ situation Down Under in 2008. But the men’s team had the support of the mighty Board of Control for Cricket in India; the women fought on their own, and got the England women’s cricket association to apologise.
Keshav and Patnaik could have easily fallen into the ‘statistics and match reports’ trap. They focus, instead, on issues rarely addressed in the context of women cricketers: pregnancy, periods, sexual orientation, violence and harassment. The Fire Burns Blue is the most absorbing of recent works on cricket as much for its tales of generations of players and their struggles, as for its methods of fact compilation and its engaging narrative.