Sachin and Azhar at Cape Town

Published: 2021
Pages: 256
Author: Sengupta, Arunabha and Mukherjee, Abhishek
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 4 stars

At the beginning of January in 1997 South Africa played India at Newlands. Already one up in the three match series the home side won this one by 282 runs, thereby avenging a 2-1 defeat on the sub-continent just a few weeks before.

It doesn’t sound like a memorable Indian performance, and for nine of the side it wasn’t. The ‘other’ two were Sachin Tendulkar, the 23 year old captain, and his predecessor, Mohammad Azharuddin, ten years his senior.

The South Africans took the game away from India from the start. They batted first and declared their first innings with seven down for 529, and then reduced India to 58-5.

What happened next was a blistering counter attack that put on 222, and must have gladdened the hearts of every Indian supporter who saw it, two of whom were Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee.

That the stand was a thrilling one is confirmed by every contemporary report of the match, but is it really possible to hold a readers attention for more than 250 pages by writing about the story of a partnership that lasted for less than three hours? Probably not must be the answer to that, but we don’t find out, because despite the title a standard account of events is not what Sengupta and Mukherjee attempt.

The way the book is written is as a dialogue between the two authors. Clearly bibliographically inclined the pair start their conversation by discussing the subject of books which deal with a single match. They mention a number, but dwell on one from a location far removed from Cape Town in both time and place, as they talk about the match in 1911 at Hove in Sussex, England, when Ted Alletson recorded his one First Class century. Alletson scored 189, 142 of which came in forty minutes. Almost half a century after the event John Arlott wrote Alletson’s Innings.

But I digress, as indeed do Mukherjee and Sengupta, frequently. They talk about the cricket of course, but many other issues as well. There are snippets from the history of the game, and much on past events in South Africa and its politics, a subject which anyone who has read Apartheid: A Point To Cover will know that Sengupta is something of an expert on.

Particularly impressive is that whilst the narrative is discursive, it never strays too far from the point. For example one of the historical elements that the book examines is previous great innings in South Africa by visiting batsmen. The authors take it in turns to produce twenty vignettes, ranging back as far as ‘Plum’ Warner, and travelling through Stan McCabe, Michael Atherton’s stunning innings in 1996 and Kusal Perera’s extraordinary match winning knock from a couple of seasons’ back. Something similar is done, equally successfully, with Indian rearguard actions down the years.

The two dimensional approach also works well when the authors are discussing the Sachin/Azhar partnership with which they are primarily concerned. This is not a flat and one dimensional ball by ball description, rather it is a story told by men who both clearly had an emotional investment in what they were watching, but at the same remain just objective enough to enable their readers to see exactly what was happening.

I much enjoyed reading Sachin and Azhar at Cape Town and it is certainly a book that is recommended, and not only to followers of Indian cricket. The book is published by Pitch, and marks the start of what is an interesting and eclectic schedule of cricket books that they will be releasing this year.


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