Cricket’s Cassandra

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Sanjay Jha challenges cricket’s status quo, says Shantanu Guha Ray

11: TRIUMPHS, TRIALS,
TURBULENCE
Sanjay Jha Orient
276 pp; Rs 495

SANJAY JHA started tracking the willow game— cricketers, umpires, their emotions, idiosyncrasies and outrageous acts — from 2000, the year he hosted www.cricketnext.com. He instantly brought a voice and character to the portal. My interaction with him was brief — I think it was during my days with ESPN Star Sports — but Jha always rattled those running the game when he wrote his column. In some ways, he is the unsung Busybee of Indian cricket. A senior official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) once said during a meeting in Delhi: “Remember the image of Michael Holding kicking over the stumps in fury during the 1979-80 tour of New Zealand? If Holding had to be replaced (hypothetically) by a cricket writer, it would be that Jha.” Over the years, Jha has earned many titles. He has been labelled a maverick, a go-getter, rabblerouser, and even a Sourav acolyte. But, no one could counter his arguments that — over a decade — produced a perfect rainbow of writing for India’s sports (read cricket) cognoscenti. He continues to rattle the establishment with his excellent columns.

I loved the well-crafted open letters he wrote to both Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell at the peak of their slugfest, urging them to end their public spat. And also his list of 10 — distinctly uncomfortable for the world’s richest cricket board — questions that included one on the legendary Sunil Gavaskar and his eyebrow-raising 36 off 60 overs in a Prudential World Cup tie. He wanted answers for all but no one bothered to reply. True to his style, Jha — an executive director at Dale Carnegie Training, India — asked whether there was anything that a common fan had missed. Basically, he asked: Was it deliberate, Sunny? There are other highly controversial posers, including one on why Abhijit Kale shut up after levelling bribery charges on national selectors. I have a feeling that Jha — totally clued into the game — knew the answers but still wanted someone from the board to reply. No one did.

His book, 11: Triumphs, Trials, Turbulence (Indian Cricket 2003-10), is a compilation of his writings that — time and again — highlight his desperation to get into the management of the game in India, even world (read ICC), and change what he calls some big time, basic flaws that are messing the game in the subcontinent. Jha has loads of grievances, the newest being the way the game has been commercialised by former IPL czar Lalit Modi. Expectedly, the BCCI top guns stay away from him.

Jha knows he can be an agent of change only if he is allowed to join a state association and work his way up the greasy ladder. This collection of excellent columns is useful reading for the serious fan of cricket and cricket politics. However, it is not likely to help Jha leapfrog into the BCCI.


The book is round

The World Cup is upon us. Hate the game or love it but now is the time for great football books, says Bodhisattwa Maity

MAN LOST his innocence by standing up on his legs from being on all fours. He certainly regained some of that lost guiltlessness by devising a way to negotiate a leather sphere between his two legs. And the religion of football turns into an orgy once every four years at the FIFA World Cup. First came the word, then came the book — actually several. And surrounding the Rapture are hundreds of football books. Most are hagiographies, ghost-written ‘autobiographies’ and coffee-table compilations — decent reads for newcomers, they are certain to leave the hardcore buff wanting for more. For someone who follows the Argentine Clausura and Apertura leagues on a streaming Mexican website, if only to spite the soccer yuppies — nirvana can be achieved only from a book like The Soccer War, Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s travelogue that traces global geopolitics through the lens of soccer and colonialism; or Football in Sun and Shadow, the impassioned defence of jogo bonito (the beautiful game) by Uruguayan poet Eduardo Galeano.

Fiction, too, has not stayed aloof. Do not sniff at the bestseller Fever-Pitch. Nick Hornby’s book is an ode to the soccer fan who loses everything in his singleminded pursuit of Arsenal heaven. Closer home, Bengali readers have long been regaled by former sports journalist Moti Nandy’s novels about Maidan heroes during their rise to fame (Striker) and then downfall(Stopper). The English translations have recently been released.

But, if you are among those who believe that football is a serious science, then there is nothing better than British journalist Jonathan Wilson’s books. In Behind the Curtain, his obvious nostalgia for Eastern Europe does not detract from the fascinating story of development in soccer tactics, in isolation, that have changed the modern game. Taking off from his earlier success, he has gone on to write the definitive history of soccer tactics in Inverting the Pyramid. Once again, his Ostalgie, his nostalgia for East European football, cannot be used to dismiss the tremendous research and anecdotal evidence. He brings a great lightness of touch to the compelling narrative that binds a dropout mathematician and a Calvinist martinet who dreamt of football socialism.

This June, if you are a football fanatic you may find yourself twiddling your thumbs during the day. Replays and highlights cannot take up your entire day. On the other hand, if you are a hater or a football widow, attempt this contrary medicine. Either way, plunge into football literature and emerge knowing that as David Goldblatt said, ‘The Ball is Round’.

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