Cricket: Conflicts and Controversies
Author: Kersi Meher-Homji
Publisher: New Holland Publishers
Rating: 4 stars
By Gulu Ezekiel
29 Sep 2013
Growing up as cricket-mad teenagers in the remote steel township of Durgapur, West Bengal in the 1970s, Sportsweek
magazine was for my brother and I a huge treat we eagerly looked forward to every week and our lifeline to the world of sport at a time when there was no live TV coverage in India.
Kersi Meher-Homji's regular "From Down Under" column, full of juicy sports (mainly cricket) news from the exotic land of Australia was one of the most eagerly anticipated features of the magazine.
It's a pleasure and honour therefore for me to review this 14th book by one of my favourite cricket authors whose output even at the age of 74 shows no signs of abating.
Kersi like me has always been fascinated by cricket's and cricketers' quirks and it is his ability to dig out the story behind the stories that has helped him compile some fascinating books like Cricket Quirky, Cricket, those on hat-tricks and ducks and Heroes of 100 Tests.
The Bombay-born virologist who moved to Sydney, Australia with his family in 1970 is a fixture in the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) press box and has become mates with some of Australia's most famous players. The legendary former Australian captain and India coach Greg Chappell has written a most thought provoking foreword to this book, involved as he was in at least half a dozen incidents recounted in it.
Kersi's latest book is on the theme of controversies, something that has gone hand-in-hand with the game of cricket for over a century now.
Gentleman's game? You would be hard pressed to believe that after going through this gripping book. For Kersi pulls no punches as he traces cricket's colourful and sometimes sordid past right from 1877 "a player arrested for betting!" to 2012 and the story of the fifth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Ironically, even as his book was being released, the storm of match-fixing and conflict of interest in the murky world of the IPL finally came out into the open, something that was only hinted at last year. Maybe a fresh chapter on IPL VI could be added if the author is inclined to bring out a revised edition somewhere down the line.
When it involves controversies which occurred before his time, Kersi rightly relies on historical and contemporary references.
It is on more recent issues, particularly those concerning India and Australia, where he brings in his own unique perspective. The "bloodbath at Kingston" in 1976 where West Indies under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd first unleashed their awesome pace battery on the hapless Indian batsmen is given a new twist. Indian captain Bishan Bedi's protest at the brutal bowling many years later led to the curtailment of bouncers allowed per over by the International Cricket Council. Bedi's six-page letter is also extensively quoted and this also brings in fresh insight.
A recent controversy involving both Kersi's country of birth and his adopted land, the sordid incident dubbed "Bollyline" by the Aussie media involving two of cricket's bad boys, Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds in the stormy Sydney Test of January 2008 was personally witnessed by the author.
The charges of racism brought against Harbhajan and his subsequent lucky reprieve also caused immense bad blood between these two great cricketing nations with a long history.
The bad blood in fact started a few months earlier when Australia toured for a series of One-day Internationals and Symonds was the target of monkey chants both at Vadodara and Mumbai. While the Indian cricket board initially denied this, the incident at Mumbai was captured on camera by an Australian photographer who promptly presented his evidence and the "villains" were removed from their seats at the Wankhede Stadium and briefly detained by the police.
It may interest readers of Parsiana that the culprits responsible for this "shameful behavior" were a bunch of Parsis as revealed the next day by a Mumbai daily.
Kersi was also present at the Brabourne Stadium when it went up in flames during the 1969 Test match against Australia, thus presenting an eye-witness account of that dark chapter in Indian cricket.
I have always believed the visual element is a vital part of any book. In this regard, the book under review scores top marks not only for its excellent production values, but also for the superb photographs. These have been carefully chosen and that of the first Australian team to visit England in 1878 I for one had never seen before. Others have been shot by the author himself which is a nice touch.
Going through the chapters, one thing becomes clear - there is nothing new in cricket. Whether it be fixing/betting, pay disputes, crowd misbehavior, bad blood between nations, squabbles among players - history keeps repeating itself. Cricket has seen it all for over 100 years.
This is a wonderful book and a worthy addition to cricket's proud legacy of excellent literature.
Gulu Ezekiel is a freelance sports journalist based in New Delhi and the author of over a dozen sports books.