At the heart of my cricket interest were two magazines that my father brought home in the late 1970s. One was the April-June 1978 issue of Sportsweek’s World of Cricket which had West Indian Alvin Kallicharran on the cover playing down the leg-side, watched by Australian wicketkeeper Steve Rixon. The other was The Illustrated Weekly of India’s preview to the 1979 World Cup published in June 1979, edited by Raju Bharatan.
At first, I was merely fascinated by the photographs, mainly of the 1975 World Cup, all by Patrick Eagar, whose lens even captured Ian Chappell's ‘grin’ while playing through the on-side. Of course, that was not a grin, only a facial expression caused when one grits one’s teeth.
Raju Bharatan reads The Illustrated Weekly of India’s 1979 World Cup preview issue at his Bandra (East) residence yesterday. Pic/Rane Ashish
Richie Benaud, who first bowled to Chappell as New South Wales captain in the 1962-63 season too mistook it for a smile. The then Australia captain thought young Chappell was being smart by smiling as he shaped to play the ball until he spoke to Chappell’s senior in the South Australia team, Barry Jarman after a hard day’s play of Sheffield Shield cricket on which Chappell got a hundred against an attack of considerable Test experience. Benaud said that Chappell’s ‘big grin’ was ‘driving me up the wall’. Jarman then cleared the air.
Pardon the digression.
Bharatan’s splendid work for the special issue included Sunil Gavaskar’s views on each of the batsmen Sir Gary Sobers had named as his best in an Australian magazine. Gavaskar was in Sobers’ top 10. The Indian master’s wit came shining through: “Sir Gary calls me a model opener. All I can say here is that I’ve done some modelling.” There were other great features like Eknath Solkar talking about his best catches while Ajit Wadekar spoke about his most awkward moments as captain. Polly Umrigar opened up on the quickest bowlers he faced and MAK Pataudi was interviewed for his experiences as editor of Sportsworld magazine. The last word in the special issue was not from its editor, but Vijay Merchant in an article headlined ‘What I Owe to Cricket’. Merchant’s words were profound: “After I am gone, I do not want any memorials. I do not want any trophy or tournament named after me. I only want to be remembered as a simple cricketer who tried to pay his debt to his country through one of the greatest games of all: cricket.”
The ideating for the issue was splendid and Bharatan told me that he got to work with the planning as soon as he returned to his desk after a meeting with then acting editor MV Kamath, the circulation manager and his deputy. Bharatan believed a cricket issue would capture the imagination of their readers what with the second World Cup close at hand. He was right.
In fact, Bharatan’s cricket issues were a hit even in Khushwant Singh’s years. In his autobiography Truth, Love and a Little Malice, he paid Bharatan the ultimate tribute. Khushwant Singh wrote: “I must admit that it was neither my features on criminals, courtesans, cabaret dancers, communities, film stars or politics which hit the highest mark, but those on cricket prepared almost entirely by Raju Bharatan and illustrated from his collection. We touched an all-time high circulation of 410,000.” That was before Bharatan’s issue on the 1979 World Cup, which touched 4.5 lakh.
Bharatan recalled how Khushwant Singh noticed the poor quality of photographs used in his early years of his 1969-1979 editorship, to which, Bharatan stressed that the best images were available in England. Soon, in 1972, Bharatan was Old Blighty-bound, a country he first visited and reported from when Vijay Hazare’s team battled against Len Hutton’s Englishmen in the summer of 1952. A deal was struck with Patrick Eagar, the best cricket photographer in business.
I somehow didn’t preserve the World Cup 1979 issue and started yearning for it a few years later. One of my first utterances to Bharatan when I first met him in 1986 was a request for that issue. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a spare one for me. I lost hope until I visited an old newspaper seller off Cadell Road in Dadar. There was a pile of magazines and my gut told me that THE issue would be in that heap. The problem was that the shop owner was a deaf-mute. After a great deal of sign language from me, he started showing me each issue and in the middle of the stack, I found what I was looking for. My delight cannot be expressed in words. I bound it and got it autographed by its maker.
Raju Bharatan deserves a lot of credit for his journalistic contribution to Indian cricket (music too). At 79, he still looks sharp enough to produce another gem.
Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor