India Uncut

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

A pundit from the neighbourhood

I don't think I've ever waited so eagerly to read a new book as I'm waiting for Pundits from Pakistan, a book about India's tour of Pakistan last year written by my friend and former colleague, Rahul Bhattacharya. It isn't just because of my personal association with the man that I say this, but because his writing, an exhilarating mix of microscopic detail and wide-angle insight, leaves other Indian cricket writers in the shade. Consider this excerpt from the book, which talks about Virender Sehwag's batting:
For ages cricketers have been raised to the commandment 'thou shalt play in the V'. Sehwag plays in the V all right, the V between cover point and third man. There is nothing scandalous in it. It is his percentage area. New Zealand's Stephen Fleming once set him a field with three gullies and two deep third men. Sehwag's strategy against strategy is to pretend that there exists no such strategy.... He waits at the crease, his rear foot ready to withdraw outside leg stump. This is his instinct to create width. If he finds the ball to be anything short of full, he retreats deeper into the crease. This is his instinct to create length. To generate momentum in his upper body, he frequently gets off the ground, sometimes with a scissoring motion of the legs. Having set himself up, he lets his marvellous hands take over, slicing, slapping, slashing, swatting above or in between the fielders in his V. Just like that, a reasonable delivery by every conventional parameter has found itself beyond the rope.

The excerpt was carried by India Today as an accompaniment to Sharda Ugra's excellent review of the book. She feels that it raises the bar for Indian cricket writing, which would be true if there was a bar to begin with. Journalists don't often write about their own breed, and Ugra's acute sense of observation makes her a perfect person to do so. She writes:
In India, cricket's intrinsic inclusiveness – the tiny wicketkeeper as much a part of the game as the giant fast bowler – sometimes escapes its professional observers. In the Indian cricket press, an insulated, ultra-competitive world of minor triumphs (more petty victories, really), there exists a perennial pseudo-struggle over nomenclature. It has also given birth to an inverse snobbery, an insidious disdain for anything that manages to be both contemporary and sophisticated.

The scoop is at war with the simile, the quotidian forever knocking heads with the quixotic. Cricket "reporters", "writers" and "journalists" are not just three names for the same job, no sir. They represent camps where the rules of engagement state that style and reflection begin and end outside Asia. Who the beep do you think you are, having idioms above your location?

Marvellous, and so, so true.
amit varma, 4:10 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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