Myth-BustingMartin Chandler |
Author: Ezekiel, Gulu
Rating: 4.5 stars
Those who can do, and those who don’t shouldn’t pontificate, is some advice I was once given by a well meaning friend. The point he was trying to make was that he believed that those who review books should have experience of writing them. I didn’t and don’t agree with him, but I can see the point. This comment can of course mean only one thing, an acknowledgement that my next observation might be regarded as my, to put it bluntly, talking out of my backside.
But anyway, my long experience of reading books has lead me to reach some conclusions about authoring them. The main one is that some books are easier to write than others. Biographies strike me as tricky because, no matter how interesting a life is, few do not have the odd dull interlude. Accounts of cricket matches are even worse. The famous Headingley Test in 1981 is a good example, the first three days play being distinctly dull and, whilst not quite so pronounced but more in point, the second tied Test in 1986/87 did not threaten much in the way of excitement before the fourth innings began.
So why this digression? The reason is a simple one, that being that Gulu Ezekiel is most certainly an experienced writer, with fourteen sports books to his credit (ten on cricketing subjects), and countless newspaper and magazine articles. In a book the occasional passage that amounts to treading water is not a huge problem, but that isn’t something that a journalist can get away with in the shorter format of more ephemeral publications. There a writer has to get his reader’s attention early, and once he has done so must hang on to it.
What Gulu has succeeded in doing in Myth-Busting is to write with his snappy and eye-catching journalistic hat on, but maintain it through a whole book. It is quite an achievement, though made rather easier by the fact that he has selected subjects that interest him, that he knows all about and, crucially, that deal with aspects of the game that are inherently controversial, concern some great characters, contain the odd conspiracy theory and feature regular slices of skullduggery.
The book starts with a chapter on that tie in Madras, or at least that is its focus, as Gulu explores the subject of tied matches in all formats of the game as well dealing with issues like missing runs, dodgy umpiring decisions and other stories from a match he had the pleasure of attending.
Sunil Gavaskar played a big part in that drama in Madras, and gets a chapter to himself. The main thrust of that one is Sunny’s ‘walk off’ at the MCG in 1981, but plenty of other stories swirl around the cricket world on the subject of India’s batting maestro of the 1970s and 1980s, and Gulu corrects some that have, over the years, developed a life of their own.
From one of the great orthodox batsman Gulu moves on to the most thrilling sight in the game, the hitting of sixes, and why describing them as ‘maximums’ is just so wrong. Another chapter sets the record straight on what has become known as ‘mankading’, and why these are really just run outs. Further back in time Gulu then moves on to another great Indian batsman and national treasure, Ranji, whose batting is still rightly revered today, but should the mighty reputation continue to attach to his off field activities?
What of Kapil Dev, a man whose entire career Gulu had the good fortune to see, and the lucky so and so got paid for watching it as well? It is of course a myth that Kapil was the first great Indian fast bowler, and there is a chapter devoted to that, followed by another that explodes a few more accepted ‘facts’ around India’s famous 1983 World Cup triumph.
An infamous episode in the history of cricket is that grim match at Sabina Park in 1976 when India were all out for 97 in their second innings, as many as five men being unable to bat. Unsurprisingly the truth of what happened has, over the years, got lost amongst the more sensational accounts of what took place and Gulu sets the record straight, as he does with another Caribbean incident that lives on in infamy, the dreadful injury that Nari Contractor sustained in 1962 when facing Charlie Griffith at the Kensington Oval.
Which top Indian batsman of the 1950s was scared of fast bowling? Everyone with any knowledge of the history of the game knows the answer to that one is Polly Umrigar, or is it? In fact that one is just another myth.
Myth-Busting closes with a chapter entitled And Finally, something of which in itself I thoroughly approve. The subjects covered are, primarily, two men, all-rounder Salim Durani and wicket keeper Farokh Engineer. Both men are surrounded by myths, and in Durani’s case the man himself has tried hard to dispel them. Engineer on the other hand has created most of his myths himself, and whilst Gulu does a fine job of unravelling those at the same time the chapter exposes the one failing in the book, also on the subject of Engineer. Gulu costs himself a maximum by failing to debunk the biggest myth of all, that being the one that claims ‘our Rookie’, aka the Nawab of Altrincham, is Indian.
All in all Myth-Busting is a cracking read, and recommended to all who love cricket and not just those who hail from the sub-continent. And if anyone feels a twinge of disappointment in getting to the final page that the entertainment is over one of the best things about the subject matter is that there must be more than enough material stored away in Gulu’s memory bank for a second selection, and indeed perhaps even a third after that – get to it Gulu!