Myths and Mysteries

Published: 2023
Pages: 220
Author: Ezekiel, Gulu
Publisher: Rupa
Rating: 4 stars

In my review of Gulu Ezekiel’s 2021 book, Myth-Busting, I suggested that a second helping would not go amiss and, right on cue, Myths and Mysteries has appeared two years later. It isn’t quite the same format as its predecessor, but is certainly cut from the same cloth.

This time round, for a book of similar length, there are just seven chapters, something that allows Gulu to be rather more discursive than he was two years ago. Myths and Mysteries is also not an exclusively cricketing work. Four of the chapters cover our great game, but there are others on an athlete, a hockey player and on the subject of Lawn Tennis, and more particularly the Davis Cup.

The cricketing chapters are, inevitably, concerned with issues which I already knew at least something of before opening the book. The others, on the other hand, I knew little nothing or nothing about. The sports concerned are not ones which I follow to any great degree, but like everyone I can enjoy a decent story that is well told, and I have previous experience of Gulu on other sports from reading his 2011 book, Cricket and Beyond.

Before I read Myths and Mysteries I did know that Indian hockey had a long and distinguished history, and the name Dhyan Chand was one I recognised albeit I didn’t know why, but that was about it. Now however I understand a great deal more about Indian success on the hockey field, and of Chand, whose performances were, to use a cricketing portmanteau, Bradmanesque.

The Olympic Games are a recurring them in Chand’s story, and the athlete who features in the book is another Olympian, Norman Pritchard. Second in the 200 metres and 200 metres hurdles events in the 1900 Olympics the mystery is whether Pritchard was representing Great Britain or India? Gulu demonstrates beyond realistic argument that Pritchard was the first Indian Olympian and therefore medallist, and from there goes on to reconstruct a remarkable life, which eventually saw Pritchard earning his living as a screen actor.

And then there is the Tennis. In my youth I played the game to a half decent standard, and always followed Grand Slam events with a degree of interest, and recall enjoying watching the Amritraj brothers years ago, but that pair apart had never followed Indian tennis nor the Davis Cup. It turns out that in fact Indian tennis has a decent history as well, especially in the Davis Cup. Gulu has a knack, no doubt honed by his years as a journalist rather than author, of imparting a great deal of information in not very many words, and I greatly enjoyed those three non-cricketing chapters, dealing as they do with subjects on which I would certainly never bother to open a book that was dedicated solely to them.

So on to the cricket. Gulu begins with a subject that will raise interest amongst the many who, almost a century on, are still fascinated by the ‘Bodyline’ series of 1932/33. There is nothing revelatory in Myths and Mysteries about the series itself but, nonetheless, there is a new angle. Perhaps surprisingly Iftikhar Ali Khan, better known as the Nawab of Pataudi Snr, has never been the subject of a biography. To go some way towards making up that deficiency in cricket’s literature Gulu takes a long look at his life and times including, of course, his role in that most controversial of Ashes series. The insights into Pataudi’s personality are valuable, and certainly caused me to think again about the ‘clash’ between him and his captain.

The next cricketer who features is Cotah Ramaswami, whose life contains two significant mysteries. The first is why, at the advanced age of 40, he was picked to tour England with the 1936 side. Was it for cricketing or other reasons? Ramaswami’s only two Tests came on that trip but, perhaps because he averaged an impressive 56.66, the real reasons for his selection tend to be overlooked. They are no longer however, and Gulu naturally also looks hard at the circumstances of the day in 1985 when the, by that time 89 year old Ramaswami, left his home never to return. To this day no trace of him has been found.

From Ramaswami Gulu moves on to look at a Test match with a controversial ending from West Indies first tour of the sub-continent, back in 1948/49. It seems the West Indians did not much enjoy their trip, although they did manage to win the series by securing victory in the one of the five Tests that managed a finish. That was the fourth match, won easily by the visitors, so the only exciting match was the fifth, and that one ended in mysterious circumstances. India were six runs short of victory with two wickets in hand but, and herein lies the mystery, were seemingly robbed of a final seven deliveries by the umpires.

And there is the final chapter. That deals in part with the entertaining, albeit not particularly important, issue as to whether Colin Cowdrey was born in Ooty or Bangalore. Gulu’s enjoyment of his efforts in researching that one are plain to see, but he finishes on a more serious note. Was Vijay Merchant’s decision to support Ajit Wadekar rather than ‘Tiger’ Pataudi for the Indian captaincy in 1970 related to a long held grudge against the Pataudi dynasty dating back to Tiger’s father getting the nod over Merchant for that role in 1946?

So once more Gulu has produced a thoroughly entertaining selection of stories, all thoroughly researched and all shedding some light on the myths and mysteries they highlight, even if few are actually resolved. Some that are firmly knocked on the head however concern the one non-Indian featured in the book, the much loved ‘Nawab of Altrincham’, better known as ‘Our Rookie’. Always adept at creating myths about himself several of Engineer’s are dismantled by Gulu here, but I won’t say exactly where and will let readers find the great Lancastrian’s brief appearance for themselves.

Finally, it is also worth making the point that Gulu has sourced some interesting illustrations for the book, only one of which, of Pataudi Snr batting in the Bodyline series, has previously seen the light of day. Myths and Mysteries is certainly recommended and, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, I understand that Myth-Busting is still in print.

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