Palpable violence — that is, perhaps, the best description of Viv Richards’ murderous stroke play and impact on the game of cricket one would come across and that is how Pradeep Magazine describes the Caribbean legend in his riveting memoir, Not Just Cricket, published by Harper Collins.
Though cricket remains the leitmotif, the book offers a lot more as it weaves sociopolitical events into the narrative. It’s perhaps the best insight so far in the form of a book about the politics that runs and dominates the Indian cricket besides being a telling reference to the sociopolitical fabric of the country as seen closely by the author over more than five decades.
The book opens with the author’s visit to his ancestral house in conflict-ridden Kashmir with childhood memories gushing forth. Pradeep has vividly captured the pre-90s Kashmir when the majority Muslim community and the minority Hindu community, known as Pandits, shared a great bonhomie despite discrete religious beliefs.
A quick recap of the author’s childhood shifts from Kashmir to Punjab where he grew into an adult who went on to become one of the most respected and credible sports journalists in South Asia.
As many cricket lovers who grew up watching India’s youngest ever test captain, Tiger Pataudi, Pradeep too is in awe of the Nawab who remained a great servant of cricket and yet wasn’t immune to the shenanigans of the administrators.
At the very outset, we get to know that the match-fixing scourge isn’t something that hit the game because of the razzle dazzle of ODI’s or the T20I’s but was very much a part of it well before that. The author recalls a conversation with Tiger Pataudi who confided in him that match fixing existed earlier also.
This claim is reinforced by what Viv Richards in an interview to now defunct Cricket Talk, a weekly magazine.
A couple of years before the match fixing saga caught the cricketing world by storm — many players found guilty of shady deals — Pradeep Magazine had written a telling book, Not Quite Cricket, in 1999 trying to make sense of what was going on behind the scenes and how deep the mafia had made inroads into the game. Match-fixing is a multi-thousand crore industry.
A spine chilling account narrated by the author shows amply how ruthless and powerful cricket administrators can get in a country were the sport is more than religion to the masses.
“What startled me was the desperate tone in which he was pleading with the PRO not to stop giving him the work, as it would affect his earnings.” The PRO was ‘stern and rude’, saying: “How can you refuse our demand? Fulfil that first and your assignments won’t stop.”
Chandigarh is where the author cut his teeth as a sports correspondent which set the tone for him to work in the capital city of Delhi and travel to different parts of world covering Team India.
The tumultuous years of Chandigarh during the militancy-ridden 80s and the 90s was a real challenge. There is a serious insight into the Punjab of that time: “Newspaper headlines would daily announce murders of people, killed simply for being either Hindu or Sikh.”
The narrative also reminds us how the seeds of communalism and divisiveness were sprouting even when the Hindu right’s ascent to power was a far-fetched dream.
The author goes on to expose further the underbelly of cricket in India that includes racism, apart from betting and other forms of corruption.
One of the examples he cites is that of Vinod Kambli who, notwithstanding his indiscipline and waywardness, was also a victim of a caste ridden politics in the Indian cricket.
There’s a detailed chapter on the author’s visits to Pakistan. The chapter is filled with moving as well as fun-filled anecdotes that succinctly underline Indo-Pak relations.
Not Just Cricket beautifully captures the rise of cricket in India and India’s changing economic fortunes in the 90s and everything else that surrounds it. No wonder the book has already got rave reviews from people whose views matter.
Shabir Hussain is a senior journalist based in India