11 July 2007

Men In White

In Crackling Form

Author: Mukul Kesavan
Pages: 278
Publishers: Penguin
Price: Rs 395
Publishing Date: 2007


It’s hardly arguable that the frenzy around cricket has significantly died down in the last few years. Our team's timid performance in the recent World Cup only sealed its fate further.
Quite naturally, everything cricket-centric has lost some of its sheen. Which is why, I wondered if a book on cricket is such a good marketable idea.
Obviously I was wrong, because Men In White makes for fantastic reading, much like a compilation of crisp Sunday newspaper columns that one devours with joy. Given that its author Mukul Kesavan teaches history at Jamia Millia Islamia and blogs passionately on cricinfo.com, makes this book a fascinating blend of piquant cricketing insights along with sharp observations on the game’s social impact over the last few decades.
Without a shred of doubt, this is a book meant for avid cricket buffs but such is the elegance in Kesavan’s writing, that even semi-cricket buffs would consider this pretty much ‘unputdownable’.
The cause is further helped because the author is never overindulgent in his writing and barring a few chapters, the rest of the book is racy, informative and sparkles with delightful one-liners. This is especially true when he describes yesteryear and modern day cricketers. While he talks of Vinod Kambli as 'the definitive example of the corrosive triumph of style over substance’, he defends Saurav Ganguly’s attitude towards arrogant teams like Australia with the following, “Ganguly had neither Imran’s authoritative hauteur, nor Ranatunga’s smiling, beatific ruthlessness, but his talent for in-your-face insolence served India well through his captaincy."
Among the senior cricketers, Kesevan’s absolute favourite is quite apparently Sunil Gavaskar, whom he describes as the man ‘who supplied Indian batting with a backbone’ and ‘Never does he look clumsy or crude as Tendulkar so often does...’
Another interesting section is on Azharuddin, where he talks of how this young Muslim lad from Hyderabad lost his eminence, no thanks to his commitment to flamboyant aggression. “From the movie mannerisms young Indian men affect--- Azhar made an unusual move for a cricketer: he bid to live that life. It is the difference between imitating the flash street-cool of the Rangeela character and actually wanting to be Aamir Khan. In India, there’s just one model for metropolitan bon vivant: the Bollywood star, so Azhar married an actress and began living like a hero.”

This is, of course, just one chapter of the book. Kesavan talks with great passion about the elegance of West Indies cricket through the 60s and 70s and how Indian cricket fans like him worshipped their players. On the other hand, Australians, as world champions, brought certain coarseness to the game, he says. You can respect their commitment to win but you cannot love them. With West Indies, you could do that.

From why the format of Indian first class cricket needs to be abolished to why there’s no place for the cricket referee in the game to how one day cricket is getting painfully boring…Kesavan provides his pithy comments and possible solutions for each of the above…and there’s lot more.

The fact that Kesavan is a huge fan of the game naturally prompts plenty of nostalgia to creep in but it’s the sort of stuff cricket buffs will sniff out in a jiffy. For the others, there’s cricket commentary at its very best.

-Sandhya Iyer

7 comments:

abzee said...

"Ganguly had neither Imran’s authoritative hauteur, nor Ranatunga’s smiling, beatific ruthlessness, but his talent for in-your-face insolence served India well through his captaincy."

सतवचन।

I assumed you were reading Kingsley's Men In White, but this sounds like a good read as well, despite my dislike for non-fiction that deal with institutions and/or commodities.

sandy said...

Abzee: I think you'll like this book very much.

qalandar said...

Great review Sandy, though I must say I still maintain that Kesavan's comment on Sachin was in very poor taste. But Kesavan is the sort of writer sports writing in general needs the world over: i.e. people who can situate a sport in its wider social context (absent which, sport cannot become anything other than mere spectacle, and mere nationalist spectacle at that). The great model for all such cricket writers is the legendary West Indian literary critic and cricket writer, C.L.R. James, whose "Beyond a Boundary" is justly esteemed as one of the greatest sports books ever written. Kesavan is certainly not unworthy of being mentioned in the same breath as James, and your review does justice to his book. In particular, the cinephile in you has rightly focused on the intriguing passages on Azharuddin...lage raho!

qalandar said...

Re: "...despite my dislike for non-fiction that deal with institutions and/or commodities."

Kya Keh rahe ho bhaiyya?! At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I second Sandy and say that I think you will like this book (and can think of other books that deal with institutions that I suspect you will like)...

qalandar said...

PS-- I have a kindred spirit in Kesavan in his disdain for the one-day game. Even today, give me a test match over an ODI any day. It's not even close for me...

sandy said...

"In particular, the cinephile in you has rightly focused on the intriguing passages on Azharuddin...lage raho!"

Yeah, I couldn't resist quoting that q. And additionally, it had a reference to Aamir Khan, so how could I miss that?

Actually, talking of Sachin, even the chapter that the author dedicates to him will seem underwhelming to you. Not that Kesawan has unduly criticised him but he's not gone over-the-top praising him either.

JayShah said...

Great review. I agree with Qalander that the writer is being not to kind to Sachin :-)

I too am not a fan of Australia as 'men' i.e. the way they portray themselves, behave etc I find alot of arrognace.

Flowing review Sandy - put it up on NG aswell !