The Nine Waves

Published: 2019
Pages: 563
Author: Bose, Mihir
Publisher: Aleph
Rating: 2.5 stars

There are some people who live only for the moment, and who have no interest in history. It is an attitude I have never understood, but not one that is necessarily permanent. For example I have watched my three offspring, who as children I recall dreading having to take anywhere of purely historical interest, maturing into young adults who are as inquisitive about the past as I was. Of course it doesn’t extend to everything, and I am yet to manage to get one of them interested in cricket, but there is time yet.

There are plenty of cricket fans who know little of the game’s history, but many more who do and well researched books on the subject still appear regularly. As Indian cricket builds on its ever increasing audience, and dominance in the context of the way the game is run, it is high time that the country’s cricketing history was brought up to date.

Back in 1990 I bought Mihir Bose’s History of Indian Cricket, a mighty tome stretching to 571 pages, albeit with the narrative giving way to a selection of statistical appendices after page 383.

I had initially expected The Nine Waves to be a reworking of that book, but have to concede it is rather more than that. Of the 489 pages of text only 200 or so are occupied with the period covered by the earlier book, so much of this one comprises the story of the last thirty years, the period over which India has emerged as a leading force in the game.

In terms of achieving what it sets out to record The Nine Waves is a decent read. The idea of dividing the subject into nine eras is a much better one than the slightly arbitrary chronological chapters that its predecessor contained. The story, interesting by its nature, is well told and well illustrated, albeit the early waves are rather under represented in the latter department.

There are however a couple of things that spoil The Nine Waves. The first is a lack of attention to detail either in fact checking, editing or both. Pointing out author’s errors can be seen as, and indeed sometimes is, nitpicking on the part of a reviewer. But in the case of books that aim to be histories trust in the facts stated assumes a greater importance, particularly if the mistakes could easily have been avoided. Those noted are:-

  • In relation to CK Nayudu’s selection as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1932 Bose asserts that what made the achievement so special was that in those days the honour was bestowed only once on a cricketer. Even if that comment were correct I am not sure it makes sense, but the reality is that even now no man (or woman) can be selected as a Cricketer of the Year more than once.
  • A photograph of the 1886 Parsee tourists is captioned as being 1866.
  • A photograph of Douglas Jardine and Nayudu is incorrectly said to have been taken at Lord’s whereas it appears much more likely to have been taken at Eden Gardens
  • Wing Commander SK Durrani should be SAK Durrani.
  • A photograph of Sachin Tendulkar at the Oval in 2011 describes him as seeking to score his hundredth Test match century rather than, as would be correct, his hundredth international century.
  • Yajurvindra Singh of Bika should be of Bilka.
  • A photograph of Sunil Gavaskar is correctly captioned as being taken at Lord’s in 1986, but is incorrectly described as being his farewell at the ground. In fact Gavaskar’s final match at Lord’s was the Bicentenary Test of 1987.
  • India drew with New Zealand at home in 1969, not 1968

Another problem raises its head in one of the most interesting parts of the book. I much enjoyed chapter 41, the main subject of which is MS Dhoni. One of the men quoted is Dhoni’s captain at under 19 level, Fardeen Khan, who Bose describes as a Mumbai filmmaker. The irritation is that whilst Fardeen Khan was indeed Dhoni’s skipper, and Fardeen Khan is also a Mumbai filmmaker, they are different men, a mistake a definitive history should not make. In a sense it makes no difference, as I would never have realised the error had been made without someone else pointing it out to me. But at the same time it did further erode my confidence in what I had read

My second complaint is rather different and, were the book to be Bose’s autobiography, or indeed was intended to fall into a number of other genres of cricket writing, might not unduly concern me. The story involves Bishan Bedi, a man who must play a prominent role in any history of the game in India, and who was at his best in my formative years.

I was always a great fan of Bedi who, by virtue largely of the way he would smile at and applaud batsmen who had hit him for six, as a youngster I assumed was a gentle and affable soul. As time has passed I have learnt that in fact Bedi was as tough and competitive a cricketer as anyone and, more relevantly for present purposes, that he can be a tad irascible on occasion.

When Bose published his History a gratis copy was sent to Bedi, which was later quite literally thrown back at Bose bearing what can fairly be described as a forceful and critical inscription. Bose believes and sets out what he believed the cause of Bedi’s ire to be. The way the great slow bowler went about making his point may not have been the best he could have chosen, but a history of the game is no place in which to record such an incident, particularly in circumstances where Bedi is given no opportunity to respond. Even given that Bose was probably entitled to be upset, it remains a wholly unnecessary exercise to include such a detailed treatment of such an incident in a book such as this.

Others have also expressed concerns about certain aspects of the book, one in particular, ironically enough, arising out of the chapter in the book that I found the most compelling the first on the ‘third wave’. In it Bose deals with the rise of Pataudi Jnr to the captaincy ahead of Chandu Borde. Swirling about in the rumour mill of the past has always been a suggestion that Pataudi owed his elevation above the, on the face of it stronger, claims of Borde because of a letter written by Pataudi’s mother to India’s Premier, Jawaharlal Nehru. The suggestion is and always has been wholly unsubstantiated and there has been criticism of Bose, who interviewed Borde for the book, pressing Borde on the point even after being told he had nothing to say.

Is the criticism fair? I have mixed views but again it seems to me to boil down to the question of what sort of book Bose is aiming for. If it is an authoritative history then it seems wrong for the issue to be included in the way it is. Bose gives the impression that the story is true, despite the lack of evidence. It is odd that Borde is not mentioned in the list of interviewees at the rear of the book, and even stranger that there is no reference in the bibliography to Borde’s own recent book, Panther’s Paces. Had Bose have read that he would have noted that there was no reference at all to the old canard.

So is The Nine Waves an essential purchase? It is a decent read and one which I would not discourage anyone from investing in, but it is somewhat flawed and accordingly cannot, unfortunately, be treated as a definitive history of the Indian game.

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