Clayton Murzello: Making a pitch for cricket drama

May 25, 2017, 06:05 IST | Clayton Murzello

Ahead of the release of Sachin: A Billion Dreams, the writer zeroes in on five anecdotes that would have made fine scenes on film

England all-rounder Ian Botham and Aussie umpire Dick French shoot for a film at the Sydney Cricket Ground in October 1986. Pic/graham morris, mid-day archives
England all-rounder Ian Botham and Aussie umpire Dick French shoot for a film at the Sydney Cricket Ground in October 1986. Pic/graham morris, mid-day archives

Tomorrow, the release of Sachin: A Billion Dreams promises to bring to the big screen dramatic off-field scenes from Sachin Tendulkar’s life that very few have been privy to thus far. From emotional and riveting, to downright amusing, the cricketing world has always offered up anecdotes packed with drama, controversy and humour. Not surprisingly, these aspects provide much fodder for filmmakers, should they choose to showcase any number of great off-field stories from the history of the game in a movie.

In keeping with the spirit of Tendulkar’s upcoming biopic, here are a handful of tales from the game that would make for an interesting movie montage.

Scene one is dedicated to superstar Sachin, though he doesn’t feature in the action in person. Set in an era before Tendulkar exploded into our collective consciousness; this act unfolds in Mumbai. The national selectors, headed by the late Raj Singh Dungarpur, met to pick the Indian team for the 1989-90 tour of Pakistan. Tendulkar, who was playing the ongoing Irani Cup match for Rest of India against Delhi, was on their mind. But opinion was divided. After all, they didn’t want to crush a 16-year-old’s confidence, if he were to fail against Imran Khan & Co. Raj Singh, it is believed, turned to the senior-most man in the room - Naren Tamhane - for an opinion. Tamhane’s simple but emphatic response was: “Sachin Tendulkar never fails.” That was it. No further discussion was necessary. Tendulkar got picked.

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The Adelaide Test was probably the most controversial of the Bodyline battles of 1932-33. It was in this game that Australian captain Bill Woodfull told England manager Pelham Warner off with the famous words, “There are two teams out there; one is trying to play cricket and the other is not. The matter is in your hands, Mr Warner, and I have nothing further to say to you. Good afternoon.” Warner had gone to the Australian dressing room after the third day’s play, to check if Woodfull, who was hit above the heart by Harold Larwood, was doing fine.

It is learnt that England skipper Douglas Jardine too knocked on the door of the Australian dressing room, wanting an apology after an Australian player had given him a earful on the field. Middle order batsman Vic Richardson, the grandfather of the Chappell brothers, opened the door. On hearing about Jardine’s apology demand, he turned to his teammates and asked, “Okay, which of you b*****ds called Larwood a b*****d.”

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Fred Trueman, a proud Yorkshireman and a great England fast bowler was prouder when he got his Yorkshire cap in 1951. He returned home that night chuffed and noticed his father in the living room. The young fast bowler asked his miner father why he was not at work. Trueman Sr replied: “On a night like this in a Yorkshireman’s life, he doesn’t go to work. Come on, where is it?” He meant the cap. It was shown to him and a sense of pride filled the old man. When he died, that white rose cap was placed in Trueman Sr’s coffin. “It was his and he’d worked for it,” said Trueman many years later.

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Ian Botham’s one and only stint as England captain was disastrous. He lost the home series against West Indies in 1980 and was well and truly outclassed by the same opponents in the Caribbean in 1981. When it came to the start of the 1981 Ashes, England - under Botham - lost the opening Test at Trent Bridge, while Botham bagged a pair in the drawn game at Lord’s. Mike Brearley was recalled as captain before the Leeds Test and had a meeting with Botham. He asked him whether he wanted to play in the Test and Botham replied, “I’m absolutely certain I want to play. I’m in great nick but I just haven’t been converting it for England. Of course, I want to play.” A delighted Brearley remarked: “Good, because I think you’ll get five wickets and a hundred.” Botham did better - he bagged seven wickets in the Test and destroyed Australia with 50 and 149 not out. Ashes cricket was never the same again!

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One simply cannot leave the cash element out of any film, so here’s a money-related segment. In 1977, Michael Holding went to Barclays bank in Jamaica and asked the person behind the counter to update his passbook. He examined it and found no change in the meagre balance. The money (one-third of $25,000 for a season) promised to him for joining Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket had not yet been remitted. Holding returned to the bank a week later and pushed his red passbook through, hoping for an update. It came back to him and he discovered that there was a comma in his bank balance for the first time in his life. It was then that Holding realised World Series Cricket was not just about promises, but serious money! Mike Coward, the doyen of Australian cricket writers calls the red passbook story one of the pearls of the game. It sure is.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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