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.
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.