Mission Domination: An Unfinished Quest

Published: 2021
Pages: 221
Author: Majumdar, Boria and Sarkar, Kushan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4 stars

There was a time when almost every Test series generated at least one book, and occasionally Ashes series have seen the number of contemporary accounts reach double figures. One such year was 2005, but that was a one off, and in truth the genre of the tour book had been on the wane for years.

The reason is the straightforward and entirely understandable one that there is little to be gained by reading someone else’s impression of a cricket match, however eloquently it may be written, when it is a simple matter to find the highlights on line and then watch history unfold in the company of a team of expert commentators.

The passing into history of the tour account was, after that blip in 2005, not something I ever thought would be reversed, until now. India’s series in Australia in the southern hemisphere summer of 2020/21 was certainly a remarkable one. India were bowled out for 36 in the first Test, and with the return home after that crushing experience of skipper Virat Kohli it seemed like a routine Australian ‘Baggygreenwash’ was almost inevitable.

Of course it turned out to be anything but. Under stand-in skipper Ajinkye Rahane India completed their own convincing victory in the second Test, comfortably secured a draw in the third before, in the fourth, always looking likely to successfully chase 328 in the fourth innings, they did so with three wickets to spare.

It really was an astonishing turnaround. A true team effort there were nonetheless plenty of personal highlights for the experienced men, and novices like Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar and Mohammad Siraj all made what were, for the neutrals in particular, important cricketing statements in support of the primacy of Test cricket.

So if there ever was a series that might have inspired a tour account I thought it would be this one, and indeed I wondered if there might have been more than just this one from the noted historian and author Boria Mujumdar, and journalist Kushan Sarkar. Where I went wrong however was expecting a traditional sort of tour book, as Mission Domination: An Unfinished Quest is most certainly not that, and might just have breathed new life into the concept of books about Test series.

To begin with there are no match descriptions, the author’s leaving their readers to either rely on their own memories or the internet to find footage of the four matches. There is some fairly extensive scene setting in the initial chapters, setting context for what is to come, and then at the end there is an interesting summary, much of it looking at the way the unfolding drama was recorded elsewhere, before the book closes with a chapter that looks at India’s women’s team, a not strictly necessary but nonetheless interesting digression.

In between comes the heart of the book which, whilst looking like no more than a series of pen portraits of the Indian players, is actually a great deal more than that. Not intended as full biographies these chapters look at the men who achieved so much in the context of that Australian series. The different pressures that the experienced men like Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara faced are examined, and contrasted with those of the novices.

Inevitably the most compelling story is that of Mohammed Siraj. I did recall that Siraj had been the subject of some wholly unnecessary racial abuse at the SCG, and I can also remember hearing that his tour was blighted by the loss of his father. What I had not thought about was the impact the Australian Covid protocols had on a man in that situation. I also hadn’t thought through the fact that, once Mohammed Shami had been invalided back to India after sustaining a broken arm in the fateful 36 all out, Siraj was only Muslim in the side, not that that fact seems to have been of the slightest significance as far as his fellow tourists were concerned. For those of us in the northern hemisphere who are currently shaking our heads at goings on in Yorkshire Siraj’s relationship with his peers gives us all hope for the future.

I suppose it must be the case that Mission Domination: An Unfinished Quest is going to appeal primarily to the Indian market, but it is a thoroughly absorbing book that should be read wherever the game is played and, the publishers being one of the big global publishing houses, I hope it will be widely available.

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