Eleven Gods and a Billion People tells Indian cricket history only from an analyst’s perspective

This moment is Indian cricket history finds no mention
The review as it appears in The Tribune’s Spectrum.

The back cover serves a delightful appetiser. It has a facsimile reproduction of a hand-written letter signed by Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, requesting the Board of Control for Cricket in India to take steps to assist head coach Anil Kumble and captain Virat Kohli in resolving their differences, if any.

As one of the latest issues in a series that has dotted Indian cricket’s journey over time, you are drawn to see how what else sports historian Boria Majumdar has in store in the book. For those who love a spicy story, it may be the page-turner. For those used to Majumdar’s scholarly – academic, if you please – efforts earlier, this is largely anecdotal.

Of course, Eleven Gods and A Billion People has different things for different people. The author comes across more as the cricket analyst he now is, presenting his opinion on different media like television, radio and print, than as the cricket annalist he set off in the new millennium. Truth to tell, he straddles the two roles through the book. Read it to get one perspective of Indian cricket.

To be fair, Majumdar has been as relentless in his pursuit of history as in his passion to chronicle it in book form. It is just that the vastness and beauty of Indian cricket is such that no labour of love would seem complete. Yet, when you read the book, you would expect more from someone who has carefully crafted an image as a sports historian.

It cannot even be called a follow up tome for Majumdar’s 22 Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket (Penguin Viking Books, 483 pages, 2004). It would appear that some chapters in this book draw from that landmark effort. The chapters on TV Rights, Quadrangular and Pentangular cricket, cricket in colonial Bengal are some that are familiar from that book.

Of course, much water has flown under the bridge since 2004 and Indian cricket has undergone a massive change. There is always a need to update history so that not only contemporary readers but also researchers in the future get an accurate account of what transpired. No matter what approach a historian takes – scholarly or anecdotal – it is a given that facts remain sacred.

Sourav Ganguly’s quote underlined on the cover of the book reads: Boria Majumdar has documented the history of Indian cricket with precision and elegance. Precision? The former Indian captain, who has clearly spent hours with the author, has apparently overlooked factual errors such as naming Nayan Mongia as one of the three cricketers whose bans courts had over-turned.

It does not take much to remember that besides Ajay Jadeja and Mohammed Azharuddin, it was Ajay Sharma who moved court. Mongia was not found guilty by CBI or the BCCI’s Commission of Inquiry headed by Madhavan. You would expect historians to pay attention to even the minutest of detail, especially in such sensitive matters as match-fixing.

Similarly, former England captain Nasser Hussain must be forgiven for calling Eleven Gods And A Billion Indians the definitive book on the history of Indian cricket. For, anything to be ‘definitive’, it would have to be complete in many respects. India’s conquest of the ICC World Twenty20 2007 and the Indian Cricket League, propped up by Zee Telefilms, find no mention.

You would also expect any attempt seeking to be the story of cricket in India to try and touch upon the domestic cricket at great lengths. And, the evolution of women’s cricket, especially in the wake of the Indian team’s entering the final of the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2017 needed more than a postscript and a promise of another book another day.

Then again, the book may make for exciting reading for those who do not deal with cricket on a daily basis. The concern, though, stems from the fact that such books can become the cornerstone for students of Indian cricket in the future. May be sports writers now understand the impact of a history told from one perspective.

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Eleven Gods and A Billion Indians, Boria Majumdar, Simon & Schuster Publishers India Pvt Ltd, 2018, pp450, Rs. 699

This review was first published in The Tribune‘s Sunday magazine, Spectrum, on April 28, 2018.

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.