'Srinivasan and Amit Shah running Indian cricket today': Ramachandra Guha
Characteristically candid and clear, Ramachandra Guha defends and serenades equally, a game in which India is a superpower, in his latest cricketing memoir
For long now, Ramachandra Guha, 62, has been feeding the needs of history lovers across multiple spheres. But, cricket is a large part of his world and he has shown that yet again through his new book, The Commonwealth of Cricket:
A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Subtle and Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind, published by HarperCollins imprint Fourth Estate.
Anecdotes have always been at the heart of Guha's history lessons and this book has him playing true to form.
But, followers of the willow game will not only view him as a brilliant storyteller. He will also be remembered for being part of the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) to ensure the Board of Control for Cricket in India was run by the rulebook.
Sourav Ganguly's current stint as BCCI president has not found favour with Guha, an ex-CoA member. Pic/Suresh Karkera
When he quit the Vinod Rai-led panel in June 2017, it was obvious that his expectations of fair play were not met. He says he has moved on from the CoA days, but the insight he has provided of that phase will give a good measure of fodder for future works of Indian cricket history.
Indeed, Guha has played yet another gem of an innings. He may not receive the same kind of kudos he deservedly attracted for A Corner of a Foreign Field; he will surely not be sent an appreciative bouquet by the BCCI, but the average cricket lover would call this effort a quick, entertaining century of sorts.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
The Commonwealth of Cricket: A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Subtle and Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind. In other words, your cricketing autobiography?
Not an autobiography, more of a memoir. An autobiography is about yourself and your achievements. A memoir is more about what you saw and observed. There is a fine line [between autobiography and memoir]. If you want to call it a cricketing autobiography, that's fine. But it's a very personal story of one individual's ride with cricket—as a player, a fan, a spectator, a writer, and right at the end, an administrator.
Former Committee of Administrators chief Vinod Rai, who according to Guha didn’t handle the Kohli-Kumble feud well. Pic/Getty Images
Accidental Administrator (one of the chapter heads) is an apt way to describe your foray into cricket administration. When you resigned as a member of the CoA, did the satisfactory aspects of your term outweigh the ones, which you were not happy about?
It didn't. N Srinivasan and Amit Shah are effectively running Indian cricket today. The state associations are run by somebody's daughter, somebody's son. The Board is steeped in intrigue and nepotism and there are great delays in paying Ranji Trophy players their dues. The reforms that were hoped for have not happened.
You have written about how uncomfortable you were about Virat Kohli not wanting to work with head coach Anil Kumble. What would you have done to ensure they continued working together?
All of us were kept in the dark. I think the chairman [of the CoA] Mr Rai, if it [a rift] was brewing, should have had a conversation with both of them [Kohli and Kumble in 2017]. After all, he is a wise and experienced administrator. He just gave in to one side without hearing the other. It was handled very badly.
You have more than just touched upon the conflict of interest issue in the book. Would you say this is the biggest bane of Indian cricket?
Not the biggest bane; it is a bane. Look at Ganguly today—head of the Board and representing some cricket fantasy game. This kind of greed for money among Indian cricketers is shocking. The most telling story in my book is about Bishan Singh Bedi saying that he is happy to go to Kabul [to coach Afghan cricketers]—anywhere for cricket and not anywhere for money. Why should Ganguly be doing all these things for a little extra money? Ethical standards go down if the president of the Board behaves like this.
Differences between head coach Anil Kumble (left) and captain Virat Kohli surfaced in 2017. They are here at a net session in Basseterre, Saint Kitts on July 13, 2016. Pic/AFP
Your story about Bishan Singh Bedi being ever ready to coach in Afghanistan is a classic example of his love and passion for cricket. Is it fair to say that you are like him--a non-fence sitter?
Yes, of course! I expressed my mind, I tried working in committees. We call a spade a spade and we are blunt.
You mention in the book that one of the disappointments during your term as CoA member was not being able to convince the powers to celebrate Vinoo Mankad's birth centenary in 2017...
That was terribly sad. He was the greatest player ever. They could have named one match the Vinoo Mankad special match
of the IPL.
Your book provides an insight into what happened behind the scenes during the CoA years. But what do you tell people who supported the establishment's way of doing things? Some people feel the CoA years were a complete waste of time and in fact took Indian cricket back.
This book is about much more than [my stint], so I don't want to dwell too much on that. I'm not involved any more so I can't prescribe what to do. Conflict of interest is bad. What Ganguly is doing now is incorrect and no other country would allow it. Gags on commentators are bad. That Sanjay Manjrekar has to beg to be readmitted [in the commentary team] is pathetic. Why should the Board have [power over] commentary? It's absurd. It never happens anywhere in the world. Can you imagine the English Premier League doing this?
Great all-rounder Wasim Akram is Guha's favourite Pakistani cricketer of all time. Here, he celebrates the dismissal of England's Graham Thorpe in the 2001 Test series. Pic/Getty Images
Are we getting carried away with the IPL being treated as the premier domestic cricket tournament?
It's important that Ranji Trophy is not neglected. It's sad that those players have not been paid. I feel sad as someone who grew up in the era of Ranji Trophy [being prominent]. The Ranji Trophy prepares you better for Test cricket, much better than IPL—to play a long innings—to learn to bowl and take wickets in different conditions.
You indicate that Mumbai's loss to Karnataka in the 1973-74 Ranji Trophy semi-final was a turning point in domestic cricket. Why do you feel so?
It's because Bombay were invincible. Karnataka beating Bombay gave other teams hope. Bombay had won so comprehensively for so many years [15 Ranji Trophy titles on the trot]. There was never a close match too. When Karnataka beat Bombay, Bedi, who was captain of Delhi, felt he had a chance as well. The game spread across all across India once Bombay stopped winning as a matter of habit. Karnataka opened the door for other states to have an ambition to win. Without Karnataka winning in 1974, it would be hard to think that you would have a MS Dhoni from Jharkhand becoming India's greatest player. Of course, there were other things that contributed like our World Cup win, television taking the game everywhere, but symbolically that [Karnataka winning] was hugely important. That a team other than Bombay could win was very important in giving hope and ambition to Ranji Trophy teams everywhere. Karnataka beating Bombay was a very important moment in Indian cricket history, and I was happy to be there to watch it.
On the other hand, is Mumbai's 41 titles unbelievable to you?
It is absolutely unbelievable that one city wins that many titles. Of course, cricket started in Bombay as I explained in my earlier book, A Corner of a Foreign Field, but it [41 times champions] is still truly amazing.
In the book you come across as a great admirer of writers Neville Cardus and Jack Fingleton. Would they rank as number one and two or the other way around in your rating?
No. Firstly, I don't believe in rankings. I'm an admirer of them, but I'm also an admirer of Gideon Haigh, Scyld Berry, Suresh Menon. Going back to the title of the book, you glory in everything—Indian, Pakistani, Australian cricketers. You glory in club, school, college cricket. I admired many writers. First, I admired Cardus, I admired Fingleton but I also admire contemporary writers like Michael Atherton. The game has changed so much so to write about the game today, you need different skills. If you want me to name one writer from the past who is dead, I would choose Fingleton over Cardus. Cardus is too romantic while Fingleton having been a Test player himself, understood the game much more closely.
In fact, you quote Fingleton as saying, "The longer I live, I am pleased to say, the less nationalistic I become." Do you think that is testament to Fingleton's right perception of how the game has to reported on?
Absolutely—reported, understood and you glory in whatever [there is]. The older I get, I enjoy Test matches in which India are not playing. You can enjoy them much more freely.
You watched a lot of cricket from the stands. Can you describe that joy?
I will. But the Commonwealth of Cricket is not just Test cricket. I watch a lot of club cricket; follow the same club for the last 50 years. I will go and watch FUCC [Friends Union Cricket Club] play with my uncle and a few boys. I will go and watch Karnataka play with only 100 people watching. I can go to a Test match. Watching from the stands is greater fun. You get a sense of how people are reacting but I like watching cricket live and not necessary Test cricket. The point of the book is that my love for cricket is not only when India plays, but when Karnataka plays, a school match, too.
You seem to be in favour of India v Pakistan contests which will not gain universal acceptance...
Of course, I would like them to play and some of my best memories are there [in India-Pakistan cricket]. I'm in favour of not treating Pakistani cricketers as enemies. I'm in favour of appreciating the great Pakistani cricketers. At the moment [resumption] seems impossible.
Who is your favourite Pakistani cricketer?
It's a tough one. I would say Wasim Akram because he was such a subtle, magical bowler. His skills with the ball were just unbelievable. He was a fast bowler who you could enjoy for aesthetic pleasure and not because of terrifying the batsman.
And you write that an India v Pak series be played for the Tendulkar Trophy...
That's my hope.
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