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An Indian Cricket Quarterly

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Ever since I first saw a copy of Rowland Bowen’s The Cricket Quarterly I have been an admirer of his work. The title Bowen chose was not the most imaginative, but that matters not. With cricket magazines it was and is what is between the covers that is important.

I cannot now recall when I first learned that there was a very similarly named magazine from India, lacking only the definite article. It was not something I had ever seen until, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to buy a complete run of the magazine. Sentiment then took over and I decided the purchase must be worth a gamble. Unlike Bowen’s magazine this one did not have a prohibitive price tag and, that run consisting of a modest fifteen* copies, it was not going to take up too much of my precious shelf space.

Was there a single guiding hand for India’s CQ? I don’t think so, at least not in the manner of the autocratic Bowen. The editor throughout the five year run was Anandji Dossa, renowned primarily as a statistician and a man who was destined to live to the ripe old age of 98. Dossa was joined on an editorial board by Anant Setalvad and Virenchee Sagar. For the last two issues only that trio were joined by a rather more famous name, Sunil Gavaskar.

The first man to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket needs no introduction from me and, strangely, there was no fanfare when he joined the board, his name suddenly appearing on the list. His byline appeared on none of the articles in either of the issues for which he was on the board so the nature of his role is, at first glance, difficult to discern. The three occasions on which he did write for the magazine were in issues two and three of volume four.

Sagar was a businessman, managing director of a successful synthetic textile company, Nirlons. Not a significant cricketer himself Sagar was however a great enthusiast and his ambition was, under the umbrella of his Mumbai based company, to build a top class cricket team. His most spectacular signing, in 1978, was Gavaskar, so the decision to add the great batsman’s name to another of Sagar’s favourite projects is in fact easily explained.

Of the three long term members of the editorial board only Dossa was a good cricketer, but even he never appeared in a First Class match, although he got as close to doing so as it is possible to do without succeeding. He was selected as twelfth man for the Hindus in the Pentangular Tournament and also for Bombay in the Ranji Trophy in the early 1940s. Outside the game he was a successful businessman whose family were involved in the cotton industry.

His business interests enabled Dossa to indulge his great passion for cricket, its literature and statistics. He built up an impressive library and in the late 1950s became a fixture as the All India Radio commentary team’s statistician. It was a position he retained until 1973. Setalvad was a colleague of Dossa’s and a commentator with All India Radio from the 1960s through to the 1980s, and over that time was one of the most popular ‘voices of cricket’ in India.

So what did the magazine contain? The first edition, naturally, contained a mission statement from Setalvad; A word about this new quarterly on cricket. It is being brought out by cricket enthusiast whose main motivation is to transmit their fondness for this magnificent sport to the readers, and to sustain their interest in the game with a mixed bag of articles, stories and statistics of topical, historic and technical value.

Much of the content, as would be expected, came from Indian writers on Indian subjects; Polly Umrigar on the Wankhede Stadium, Vijay Merchant on his most memorable performance and KN Prabhu looking at the home series just gone against West Indies. It wasn’t all India however. Setalvad interviewed Len Hutton, Tony Cozier profiled Andy Roberts and Mike Brearley, who was to be a regular contributor, provided a piece on captaining a county side. Disappointments were the absence of any book reviews (soon remedied) and that Dossa’s statistical review amounted to nothing more than the scorecards of the West Indies Tests.

The fact that the second issue was twenty pages longer than the first suggests that Cricket Quarterly got off to a good start. It begins with an interesting editorial from Setalvad on the question of whether bumpers should be banned before another fine selection of articles. This time it is Mushtaq Ali who writes of his most memorable performance, and the now centenarian Vasant Raiji makes, on the subject of Neville Cardus, his first contribution. There are profiles of Brijesh Patel and Anshuman Gaekwad and, importantly and perhaps unexpectedly, the manager of the Australian team, Betty Butcher, contributed an article to mark the first ever women’s international between India and Australia, that had just taken place. There were also a couple of book reviews. Not quite Rowland Bowen, but Raju Bharatan pulled no punches.

It was all change for issue three, new printer, logo and even size, albeit the ‘shrinkage’ was slight. There more pages too, 72 in all, although there was more advertising, so no real increase in content. Sadly there was no ‘memorable performance’ feature but there was more material from writers based outside India. Brearley and Cozier both appear again, as do two of the biggest contemporary names in cricket writing, Australia’s Ray Robinson and the archetypal Englishman EW ‘Jim’ Swanton. Others were the Australian writer Phil Wilkins and the ‘Sage of Longparish’, John Woodcock.

Volume one finished at this point, and indeed all five volumes only contained three issues, so presumably there was no winter issue. That said I am advised by a renowned Indian collector that the magazine’s appearances were never entirely predictable although I suspect that may not have the case with the first two volumes, in each of which the individual issues referenced a specific three month window, July to September missing out each time.

The second volume continued in much the same vein as the first. There was a good editorial from Setalvad in the first, on the question of burn out, with particular reference to India’s renowned spin bowling quartet. The second volume reported on the infamous 1975/76 tour to West Indies when, on their own wickets, the fearsome West Indies pace pack inflicted some serious injuries on a brave Indian side after the visitors had won a famous victory at Port of Spain by comfortably chasing a fourth innings target of 404. Perhaps surprisingly the subsequent battle of Sabina Park where injuries meant India were all out in their second innings at the fall of their fifth wicket was not the subject of a Setalvad editorial, although in the third issue he did look at the, at the time, paucity of fast bowling stocks in India.

Generally the writers were the same as those seen before, but the trip to West Indies was reported in a couple of essays from the local man Brunell Jones, and a visit to India from New Zealand brought contributions from Kiwi writers Terry Power and Don Cameron. Under slightly different titles there was also a welcome return in issues two and three for pieces by great Indian players about their finest hours, the men involved being Rusi Modi and Vijay Hazare.

Volume three began with an issue dominated by a twelve page feature from Raiji celebrating a hundred years of Test cricket, and another only a couple of pages shorter comprising a rare piece from board member Sagar who interviewed Woodcock and Henry Blofeld on the subject of an Indian cricket. The highlights of issue two were Setalvad on World Series Cricket and Merchant’s essay on the fast bowlers his time – its title was Only Nissar Worried Me. Issue three saw the editorial duties handed over to Sagar, whilst Setalvad wrote a report of the first Test in Australia between Bishan Bedi’s side and Bobby Simpson’s Australian second string. World Series Cricket (WSC) was very  much the issue of the day, and Sagar did an interview on that subject with Modi. There is also an interesting article from Merchant, contrasting his own batting with that of Gavaskar.

As 1978 unfolded World Series Cricket remained the major talking point in the world game and there was plenty of coverage of that subject in issue one of volume four. There was a piece on the WSC Australians’ visit to West Indies from ‘Our Correspondent’ and contributions from Ray Robinson, Kishore Bhimani, John Woodcock and Frank Tyson were all concerned with aspects of WSC, as indeed was Setalvad’s editorial.

Issue two of volume four included on its front cover a selection of press cuttings reporting a number of recent poor performances from India, and inside there are no less than ten essays, all by Indian writers, under the general heading Symposium – Whither Indian Cricket? Interestingly one of the writers was Gavaskar, the country’s leading batsman and soon to be captain. Unsurprisingly his words were carefully chosen. His name appeared again later in the magazine, responding to Merchant’s article in issue three of volume three. Two more fine historical articles were Polly Umrigar’s look at his own best innings, and Raiji’s selection of the best innings he had seen, a Vijay Hazare triple century in the 1943 Pentangular Tournament.

As usual volume four concluded with its third issue, notable for Gavaskar’s only other contribution to the magazine, an article on the ‘pleasures’ of facing fast bowling. There was also an interesting section, comprising articles from Modi, Raiji and ‘Cricketer’** under the title Has The Game Changed? – Some Views.

The fifth and final volume began in 1979 and at first blush looks the same as its predecessors although issue one does not, oddly, contain any reference to an editorial board. Perhaps that was just a change of printer as issues two and three had this reinstated, as noted with the addition of Gavaskar. There is a sign however that the magazine may have been struggling a little financially as forty years on the pages of those final three issues have yellowed a great deal, a sure sign of an attempt to cut cost by allowing the new printer to use inferior quality paper.

The editorials in volume five are interesting. In issue one Setalvad commented on Gavaskar being relieved of the Indian captaincy and, for his second and final tilt at that job in issue two Sagar looked at the lessons to be learned from India’s series defeat at the hands of England in the northern hemisphere summer just gone. Setalvad returned to his usual berth for issue three and the short editorial there seems somewhat cryptic and there must be a suspicion that as he wrote it Setalvad knew that it was unlikely to be a task he would be undertaking again.

As far as the essays in volume five are concerned they are the usual mix of the contemporary reportage and historical review together with a few more eclectic subjects, with the giant shadow cast over the game by the WSC controversy cropping up on several occasions. A personal favourite is one from the occasional The Best Innings I Have Seen series of articles on this occasion from Arvind Lavakare. I have not previously heard of Lavakare, but assuming that google has drawn me to the right man he seems primarily to be a writer on the subject of Indian politics. He can certainly turn his hand to cricket though, and he made an interesting choice, an innings of Clive Lloyd’s in Bangalore in 1974.

Turning to issue two the standard of writing is as high as ever, and also consistent, so I will single out only one item for special mention. I was particularly taken by an article by Raiji on the tour of India that took place in 1930/31 by a side raised by the Maharajah of Vizianagram that included Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe and which, a few years after Raiji’s article, gave rise to a controversy that rumbles on amongst the game’s statisticians to this day. The issue which divides opinion is whether the two centuries made by each of those great England batsmen should or should not (they now are) be recognised as First Class.

Turning finally to the fifteenth and final issue I have already made comment on Setalvad’s editorial. There are also six features that together make up a section of the magazine entitled Symposium: The Money Game. Even with the benefit of more than forty years hindsight they remain a thought provoking selection, and a fitting note on which to bow out for what is certainly one of the better cricketing periodicals.

Of those who founded Cricket Quarterly Dossa died in New York in 2014, as noted at the ripe old age of 98. Setalvad passed away only last year, August 2019, at the age of 84. I have not been able to find a date of death for Sagar, but he was described as ‘late’ back in 1997, so clearly did not enjoy the longevity of his friends. For all three however, like Rowland Bowen, a cricketing magazine that lasted just a few years survives as a tribute to their vision and hard work. The only pity is that, unlike Bowen’s quarterly, this one seems not to be so highly sought after. A full run is certainly rare, the set I have being the only one I have ever seen on the market, but it was not expensive, my certain recollection being that the shipping cost from Australia was greater than that of the magazines themselves.

*Padwick is not clear on the subject of how many issues there were, but Gulu Ezekiel has the same fifteen I have so we are confident, albeit not 100% certain, that volume five issue three, date marked 1979, was the fifteenth and last. That said Gulu and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who is aware of any later issues, particularly if they are willing to sell! On that point it is perhaps worth mentioning that one possible cause for confusion might be that in early 1974 the established Indian periodical Sportsweek introduced its own Sportsweek Cricket Quarterly before, following the launch of their magazine by Dossa, Setalvad and Sagar, changing its name to Sportsweek’s World of Cricket.

**Who was Cricketer and why did he use a pseudonym? The reason is almost certainly that the writer concerned was under contract to someone else but the man involved? The use of Neville Cardus’ old byline suggests the individual concerned was an admirer of the great man which, I understand, makes NS Ramaswami the favourite.

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