Bombay Boys: Chronicles of Cricketing Lives

Published: 2014
Pages: 224
Author: Waingarkar, Makarand
Publisher: Times Group Books
Rating: 3.5 stars

For the last two or three years I have renewed Gulu’s membership of the Cricket Memorabilia Society for him. It is a shrewd investment on my part because every few months the bibliophile’s equivalent of a Red Cross parcel turns up at my address. Gulu returns the favour by making sure I receive a steady stream of Indian books which, generally, would otherwise be tricky for me to acquire. One of the books in the most recent consignment was Makarand Waingankar’s Guts and Glory, a book he reviewed last week. The review caught my imagination with its reference to the author’s state of health whilst he wrote it, and I didn’t have to look any further than the next book Gulu had enclosed to find an example of his writings from days when Waingankar’s health was more robust.

Bombay Boys: Chronicles of Cricketing Heroes is not an unusual format, in that it comprises a series of short essays on players who the author finds interesting. There are some decent examples of this sort of book around, but generally the shorter the essays the less impressive the book. Here you have as many as 76 separate profiles, all around the 700 word mark, so no chance to do much more, certainly with a Test player, than introduce him and summarise his major achievements. The good news for readers is that Waingankar does not set out to do that. These are not pen portraits in the traditional sense, but instead are very personal recollections of the men concerned. They originally appeared as a series of articles in the Times of India, and as such are not dissimilar to ‘Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow’s Cricket Prints and More Cricket Prints, both of which were published shortly after the Second World War.

So who are the 76? After all Bombay/Mumbai has produced a welter of fine cricketers over the years, none more so than Sachin Tendulkar, but he is not featured. Nor is the great man’s contemporary Vinod Kambli, or from further back the original Indian master Vijay Merchant (although his rather less distinguished brother Uday is featured). A factor may well be that there are books (in SRT’s case very many) already in the shops about those three. Of the 76 only five have been the subject of biographies or have written autobiographies, and the books there are on Vinoo Mankad, Sandeep Patil, Ajit Wadekar and Farokh Engineer are not easy to find. The only high profile man featured in the book is Sunny Gavaskar, and the piece about him is devoted in its entirety to his very earliest days in the game, and is an interesting sideways glance at a little known aspect of a famous career.

There are numerous members of the dramatis personae of Bombay Boys: Chronicles of Cricketing Heroes who have not played Test cricket, and others who have very few caps. In the circumstances many of the men included are not well known in India, and to an Englishman such as myself I was constantly reminded of how little I know of the game there. There were certainly some revelations. The first tour I recall vividly was in 1971 when, contrary to expectations, India beat England in a famous match at the Oval to take their first series here. Their bowling was in the hands of three of their four great spinners, although unlike their predecessors four years earlier their seamers did do a little more than just see the shine off the new ball. One was Syed Abid Ali, sadly not a Bombay man and thus not featured here. He was no more than military medium, but could certainly move the ball around in helpful conditions. His partner was Eknath Solkar, about the same pace and a jack of all trades. ‘Ekki’ is featured here, and a fine essay it is too, but I digress. I thought that India simply had no fast bowler, but I now know otherwise.

Kailash Gattani is described by Cricketarchive as being a medium pacer, and that is echoed by Cricinfo, but it seems he was rather sharper than that. His record, over 19 years in the First Class game, was 396 wickets at 19.91, and given that Waingankar tells of a career-long battle with dropped slip catches he must have been a very good bowler, and certainly unfortunate to never play even a single Test. As noted none of the essays in the book purport to be a comprehensive biographical summary and the Gattani effort is therefore a perfect illustration of both the book’s strength and its weakness.

The eclectic nature of the contents of the writing is a strength because the reader familiar with the ground the book covers is still going to be interested in reading a collection of stories such as these. On the other hand the book can be frustrating due to creating the desire to learn more about most of Waingarkar’s subjects. The fascinating glimpses he provides of men like Budhi Kunderan, the Gupte brothers and Polly Umrigar to single out just a few suggest that all should be the subject of much longer essays than can be accommodated within the strictures of a newspaper article. But it would be wrong to be too critical of a book that is such an enjoyable read, and I would certainly encourage anyone with an interest in the Indian cricketers of the second half of the twentieth century to make the effort to track down a copy of Bombay Boys: Chronicles of Cricketing Heroes.


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