Monday, August 18, 2008

Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer: Sujit Mukherjee

Eleven reasons why Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer can lay claim to being one of the best cricket books ever written, probably the best by an Indian.

  1. For not trying to explain India through cricket or to glorify cricket as a unifying force, as the opium for the masses. Sujit Mukherjee sees cricket as, wait for this, cricket.
  2. For keeping the focus on the game, and the references to politics and power plays to the minimum, helped, no doubt by the fact that Bihar was not quite (and doesn’t look likely to ever be) a cricketing hotspot like Mumbai or Chennai.
  3. For not trying to build or defend the author’s cricketing image. This was perhaps easy because while Sujit went on to represent Bihar in the Ranji Trophy, he was not a star cricketer.
  4. For not name dropping. Notwithstanding point 3 above, Sujit has rubbed shoulders with the odd well-known name in Indian cricket. He writes about these in a wonderfully matter-of-fact manner, even the fact that he managed to tonk CS Nayudu for a few in an unofficial game in Kolkata in 1952 gets only a matter-of-fact coverage.
  5. For the kind of insight he offers, almost by the side. Like when he conjectures on why Patna University fails repeatedly.
    One reason I thought was that our cricketers were so used to playing against one another that they got utterly out of depth when facing unknown opposition.
    Is it to overcome this problem that the English County Board allowed overseas cricketers in the county circuit? And then took it to the next level with the Kolpaks?
  6. For faithfully reporting on local cricket from the U.S. – it turns out to be more interesting than the oft-repeated stories of Americans trying to understand the game.
  7. For enabling you to read without having to refer to poetry books or lengthy literary classics. With no disrespect to those who adopt that style of writing, there is a certain sincerity that emerges from simple writing – Unknown Cricketer is a good example of this. This is all the more creditable considering Sujit was an English professor – surely he would have read some classics.
  8. For, despite his fairly successful writing life, referring to it so unselfconsciously.
    An occasional writer of articles (like me) can never get over the fact that he is read. As for the rare writer of books (again like me), he can scarcely believe that he is purchased.
  9. For the illuminating way in which he describes the selection trials for the Bihar state team. In three sparse and succinct pages, he reveals how the game is run in the country. I don’t think things have changed much even now, sixty-three years on.
  10. For this passage, comparing watching a game at the ground and watching a game on television.
    Unavoidably, a sense of loss persists. The telecast shows me only what the cameraman wants to show; the telecommentary tells me only what the commentator is capable of telling, much of it pointless. Large chunks of the match, and not only of play, are left out completely; small chips of play are shown magnified beyond proportion of their significance.
  11. For being only 168 pages long. And yet not sounding hurried.

1 comment:

Gaurav Sethi said...

Cracker of a write GK. Now I wanna know the unknown cricketer.