Published: 2014
Pages: 315
Author: Majumdar, Boria and Bhattacharya, Gautam
Publisher: Harper Sport
Rating: 3 stars

It seems a little churlish to describe this one as the ‘second’ book published in 2021 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of India’s twin triumphs in the Caribbean and England in 1971, but as an alternative it sounded rather condescending to use the word ‘other’. Granted therefore that Twice Upon A Time beat 1971 to the bookstores by a mere three days back in April, I still believe the most appropriate way to distinguish them is sequentially.

Not that the two books are all that similar, and indeed in some ways they complement each other. Whereas Twice Upon A Time is certainly a celebration 1971 is clearly intended to be a full account of the two tours, and to be a historical record. Its authors are both familiar writers, each of whom have written extensively on the game and are as well connected within Indian cricket as it is possible to get, Boria Majumdar having performed the writing duties for Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, and Gautam Bhattacharya doing the same job for Sourav Ganguly.

1971 begins with some context, and a summary of the history of contests between England and India in England, something which, certainly post war, makes dismal reading for the Indians and underlines the scale of the triumph in that historic summer. The accounts of both series then follow and the final third of the book then consists of a series of interviews with many of those who were involved, and indeed a few who were not.

A disappointment in any historical account is the presence of factual errors and what might be forgivable and not of great relevance in a biography or autobiography takes on, in this reviewer’s opinion at least, much greater importance in this sort of context. I am not an expert on the subject of Indian cricket, but even I spotted a few important mistakes here. The Old Trafford Test in which Peter Lever scored 88 was not the Lancashire pace bowler’s debut, and the West Indian paceman Charlie Griffith did not appear in the India/West Indies series in 1958/59. On a slightly different tack I am far from convinced that all of the photographs of Sunil Gavaskar in the book do in fact date from 1971. In addition a misdescription such as the disastrous tour of England in 1959 being referenced as taking place a year earlier does not inspire complete confidence.

Subject to the point I make above 1971 is however a decent account of what will always be one of the most important years in Indian cricket history, although at times the authors do rather overplay their hand in terms of finding clouds on the silver lining. That there was some controversy before the tour started as to who would lead India is a point that I felt was given rather more importance than it deserved, and speculation that Chief Selector Vijay Merchant went against ‘Tiger’ Pataudi as a result of a quarter of a century of simmering resentment at Pataudi’s father getting the same job rather than Merchant in 1946 seems improbable.

Merchant is not alone in getting a rough ride in 1971 however, tour manager Hemu Adhikari and skipper Ajit Wadekar also receiving their fair share of criticism. It is, of course, very true that the next Indian side to visit England in 1974, again under Wadekar’s captaincy, had a torrid time, but surely that is something for another book?

Another question that occurred to me as I read through the interviews in the final part of the book was why the unfortunate incident in which the 1974 tourist Sudhir Naik was arrested for shoplifting in Marks and Spencer was mentioned at all. It is a curious story, and quite why Naik was subsequently pressed by management to admit guilt where it is difficult to see there was any is worthy of some investigation, but surely not in this context?

The presence of the interviews in the final part of the book is, overall, a nice touch although perhaps overdone. It is difficult to see anything added by those with Pakistanis Intikhab Alam and Zaheer Abbas, nor indeed that of Gopal Bose who was not even on the 1971 tour (but was in the 1974 party). Another man interviewed is Kapil Dev, who to all intents and purposes has nothing at all to say about 1971, and whilst I can see the prospect of a contribution from England skipper Ray Illingworth being seen as a bit of a coup, in fact the Yorkshireman’s responses are entirely predictable and, accordingly, a little disappointing.

On the other hand the thoughts of the star of The Oval, Chandra, contain much of interest, as do those of the two men who competed for the off spinners berth, Prasanna who missed out on Test selection in England and appeared just three times in the Caribbean, and Venkat who played in all eight Tests. Wadekar, Pataudi and Bedi all contribute their thoughts on the controversial issues and, for those who like a bit of light relief, there are conflicting versions of the denouement at the Oval from the men at the crease when victory came, Syed Abid Ali and Farokh Engineer. As always Engineer has a clear memory of what happened, but despite my unstinting admiration for the great Lancastrian I have to say I find Abid’s answers more compelling!

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