The Covers Are Off

Published: 2004
Pages: 275
Author: Bala, Rajan
Publisher: Rupa & Co
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Covers Are Off

Rajan Bala is amongst the few Indian cricket journalists who knows the game’s history, its tradition and more importantly, understands the nuances of the cricketing skills – not too common a trait amongst Indian scribes. So buying the book the moment I saw it was easy. Three years later, writing about it, I must confess that I loved reading the book for it did bring the covers off though not completely as it promised and was also disappointed by its lack of polish and finesse.

To start with, the style, chatty at best, is not that good in 275 pages. It is as if Rajan just started out writing down what he wanted to include in his book, but did so without deciding on the overall structure before hand or a single attempt to edit before publishing the first manuscript.

The language is everyday. Bala is not your Cardus, Thomson or Arlott. He speaks his mind plainly and his English is just that – plain and functional.

My final criticism is the visual presentation. The pictures, some of which are priceless have been presented in a style which I find jarring. They just merge into each other across the pages and with black and whites, coloured with hand or by using coloured filters, the overall effect is very amateurish. The same shoddiness is on the front cover of the book. I wish he had gone with his own orthodox instincts rather than listening to whichever smart alec he entrusted the job to.

Now the good bit. The book is a revelation as anything coming from Rajan had to be. He has always been a forthright writer who will at least call a spade a spade although here he stops short of calling it a bloody shovel. At times he pulls his punches as he reveals the behind the scenes stuff.

When he says, “Having interacted with many of them on a one-to-one basis, I have been able to understand, sympathise and criticize. I have studied the strengths and frailities of these men. Many of them have been friends for so many years”, I know he means every word of it. I have had the pleasure of discussing cricket in general and Indian cricket in particular with him at length at a common friends home in Delhi and know for a fact Rajan is completely authentic though slightly mellowed with age.

It is still heartening to read “What Mohammad Azharuddin and Company did to us who love the game passionately was to leave us shocked and horrified.”

But having said this much, he does not delve much into the sorry episode. One suspects Rajan, at this stage of his career, no more a doyen amongst Indian cricket writers, does not want to make more enemies in powerful places. If that is the case, I am disappointed.

Then again when he talks of “those who have made their reputations on one or two innings and more because they look good on television”, he makes you wonder how many Indian journalists can say this in these times of annual Indian cricketing Gods.

One is aware of Bala’s fondness of Prasanna and Chandra and his friendship with Pataudi and yet when he analyses Wadekar’s captaincy and his handling of the Indian spinners, its clear that he is making an effort to be objective. He is very strong on opinions and yet he comes out as solid on facts. That’s the strength of a sincere man.

There are scores of fascinating tit-bits which would shock except those used to the complex personality related issues that plague sub-continental cricketing politics and yet one is amazed when one comes across them in such stark black and white hues. Here is one:

“Wadekar, after the defeat to Tony Lewis led Englishmen, wanted Pataudi in his team … he asked me whether Pataudi had given any indication that he would be willing to play.

“… I remember informing him. Pataudi’s response was typical. ‘I have not played much. But against this English side it wouldn’t be a bad idea to play. There is no way I am going to tell Ajit anything. Somebody from the establishment has to take the initiative.’ The matter ended there.”


So if the machinations of sub-continental cricket interest you, this is a book you will love even though it may keep pulling you back from the edge without revealing all that lies at the bottom.

The first sheet on the book has a quote from Voltaire.

One owes respect to the living;
but to the dead
One owes nothing but the truth.

I suspect Rajan, in this book has tried to be as true to the first line there as to the last.

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