Guts Amidst Bloodbath: The Aunshuman Gaekwad Narrative

Published: 2023
Pages: 250
Author: Bhushan, Aditya
Publisher: Global Cricket School
Rating: 4 stars

I do like a good cricketing biography, especially of a player who I have not read very much about elsewhere, so for me this biography of Aunshaman Gaekwad was certainly one to look forward to.   Over a ten year period between 1974 and 1985 Gaekwad played in forty Tests for India as a specialist batsman yet, with just two of those in England bringing him a modest reward of 54 runs in four innings, I have no real recollection of actually seeing him bat.

Cricket does of course happen well beyond these shores however, and Gaekwad’s reputation for bravery did not escape my notice, most particularly his contribution to the remarkable series in the Caribbean in 1975/76. In terms of runs scored that contribution was relatively modest, but his 28 in Trinidad in the third Test set India on their way to their famously successful pursuit of a fourth innings target of 404. In the following Test, when equally famously India were all out in their second innings with just five wickets down, he made a much greater contribution in terms of runs, making 81 in the first innings, before a Michael Holding bouncer crashed into his left ear and ended his match and resulted in a hospital admission.

And in the style of modern biographies it is the Caribbean where Aditya Bhushan begins Gaekwad’s story with a chapter appropriately titled The Bloodbath. In it he makes the telling observation that the welter of cricketing statistics there are can measure achievement in many ways, but cannot be used to measure courage. If they could then Gaekwad would be up there with the best.

With several disappointments as his career unfolded, usually caused by the caprice of selectors, Aditya Bhushan has selected an interesting subject in Gaekwad even if the book had been based purely on his cricket career. But with this one there are other advantages too. Gaekwad’s family were royalty in Baroda, and his father also a Test cricketer. Datta led India in England in 1959 and, at 94, is currently the senior Indian Test cricketer. Stints as national selector and coach also enhance the Gaekwad story, as does the fact that he gave freely of his time to his biographer.

Another observation that needs to be made is as to the quality of the two forewords to the book. Many forewords to books by leading players are, without wishing to be unduly critical, little more than going through the motions. But that is certainly not an accusation that can be levelled at Sunil Gavaskar or Gundappa Viswanath. As the reader learns as he or she works through the chapters in the book both men have plenty of reason to value their onfield relationships with Gaekwad as well as those outside the game, and the thought and affection that has gone into their contributions is clear for all to see.

The most important part of any book however is the narrative, and in a cricketing biography the hope is always that that will not merely be a series of bland match reports tied together with an author’s commentary. I am delighted to report that there are no problems of that nature here. In his acknowledgments Bhushan thanks more than seventy people for their input, many of them Test and First Class cricketers. Most are Indian, but there are several West Indians as well. The text is illuminated by quotes from those interviewed and there is also an unusual feature to end the book, what amounts to a pen picture of himself and summary by Gaekwad. There has clearly been a great deal of work that has gone into Guts Amidst Bloodbath, and it is an excellent book as a result.

All in all it is difficult to find any aspect of the book to criticise, graced as it is with an interesting selection of photographs and a statistical appendix. As ever an index would have been helpful, although its absence doesn’t matter so much with this sort of book. One word of advice I would however give to readers who are not familiar with India is to have next to them, when they read Chapter 3, Train to Indore, is a map of India. The chapter tells the remarkable story of how Gaekwad got to the ground in Indore for his appearance for Indian Universities against the 1974/75 West Indian tourists, and a the reading experience, and respect for Gaekwad, is greatly enhance by understanding the distances involved.

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