Posts Tagged ‘Cricket Literature’

I was in the mood for more cricket books and I decided to read Neville Cardus’ autobiography.

Neville Cardus was one of the greatest cricket writers – of his time and of all-time. Old-timers will probably say that he was THE one. He elevated cricket reporting and sports journalism to art. His prose was the very definition of purple. In addition to cricket writing, he was also a music critic, something which is less talked about.

Cardus’ autobiography is divided into three parts. In the first part called ‘Struggle’, Cardus describes his life from his birth through his teens and twenties, when things were really hard for him. In the second part ‘My Summers’, he describes his cricket experiences. In the third part ‘My Winters’ he describes his experiences as a music critic. Throughout the book, especially the third part, he talks about mentors and friends who influenced his life deeply.

My favourite part of the book was the first. The bare facts of the story are these. Cardus lived his early years in a joint family kind of situation with his mom, grandparents and aunts. His mom was a prostitute. So was his favourite aunt who brought him up. Cardus never knew who his dad was. He had just four years of formal schooling and hated it. He left school when he was 13. At some point his grandparents died, the family broke up, his favourite aunt took him to live with her but then she died too, and he was literally on the streets. From these surroundings filled with extreme poverty and with no future in sight, how Cardus managed to acquire the knowledge and education he had and how he became one of the greatest prose stylists of his time, is the stuff of dreams, it is the stuff of legend. It is nothing short of a miracle. I got goosebumps reading that story.

I enjoyed reading the second part of the book too because it was about cricket. I especially liked what Cardus wrote about Archie MacLaren. For a long time, Archie MacLaren’s name was the answer to the quiz question – “Who scored the last quadruple century in county cricket?” It was nice to see the real Archie MacLaren come alive through the pages of this book. It was also wonderful to read Cardus’ thoughts on Victor Trumper and his descriptions of Lancashire cricket.

The third part of the book was interesting, but I also felt that it was very specific to classical music of that period. I love classical music, but I don’t think I can read a lot about specific concerts, composers, conductors at one time. Classical music fans will probably love that part of the book. But I loved some of the things that Cardus said about classical music.

The book ends at around the eve of the Second World War. Cardus was around till 1975, and so we don’t know what happened in his second innings. I also read somewhere that Cardus was married, but he doesn’t breathe about it in the book. It is as if his wife never existed. I don’t know why. His readers would have liked to see the family-man side of him and would have liked to get acquainted with his wife.

I enjoyed reading Cardus’ autobiography. The first part was very inspiring and it gave me goosebumps. If a guy who came from extreme poverty with four years of formal schooling can become one of the greatest prose stylists, there is some hope for us all.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Music, I say again, came to me by grace. A man is not boasting when he claims to have received grace. The things that we are praised for in this world, our “successes,” are exactly the things for which we do not deserve credit; successes are easy, they come by grace. It is our failures that go sadly by without recognition of the effort and talent we have put into them; single-handed we hammered them out, but inspiration left us in the lurch.”

“In his last few years he helped me, less by any precise instruction than by his company. For hours we sat in cafés in Manchester, deep under the earth on winter afternoons; his talk was a fire; not a crackling one but as a glowing hearth, steady and warm without obvious combustion. Once in June, after sunset, very late and still, he leaned over the gate of his garden and talked to me of Shakespeare’s lyrics and of the fragility of loveliness in life. The air was full of the scent of his own flowers; and the wisdom of his speech, genial yet deep, seemed part of the beauty of the summer night.”

“Stendhal said that for him a landscape needed to possess some history or human interest. For me a place must have a genius in the air, a sort of distillation of years, a pathos of perspective, a mist of distance. In a word, it must have ghosts of lost wandering life, now forgotten by the extrovert and contemporary world. Historical and archæological interest is prosaic for me; I do not particularly wish to see the house in which the greatest poet was born; but to walk from Grinzing down to Vienna on a September evening, as twilight deepens and the lights of the city begin to twinkle, and to feel the sense of the past, almost to hear the vanished beauty and song whispering in rustle of leaf or wind, and in some hurrying footfalls on the roadside; to feel an awareness to all the hearts that have beaten here, the hopes and the strivings in these old houses, huddled in deserted gardens; birth and marriage and death; the comings-home at the day’s end, the glow of candlelight and wine and fellowship that surely seemed perennial and everlasting; the security of life at the crest, and now not only dead but lost to a world that must for ever be up and doing—this for me, is to live and to “go places.” Every great city is a palimpsest not of facts and events but of atmosphere and feeling, shaped by the irony of transition. That means I cannot enter into an unexplored land, a new land, where nature has not acquired an æsthetic and a pathos. Mountains and grand canyons and plains and mighty rivers are only so much geography in my eyes; mere contour-maps built on a large scale. A sunset in the Indian Ocean once bowled me over because it was like the closing scene of Götterdämmerung. I suppose I am a far-gone case of the Ruskinian “pathetic” fallacy; the external universe must appeal to me as a theatre or as a series of dissolving views, with the lantern turned inwards to my own soul.”

Have you read Cardus’ autobiography? What do you think about it?

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After reading Gideon Haigh’s book on Victor Trumper, I was in the mood to read another cricket book. I was wondering whether I should read a book which will make me happy, have nice cricket anecdotes, or whether I should read one which was heartbreaking, which will make me wallow in misery. I decided to read the second one. I don’t know why I keep doing this.

I have wanted to read ‘Silence of the Heart : Cricket Suicides‘ by David Frith for a long time. It was hard to find. But I finally got to read it. The title of the book is inspired by Albert Camus’ line – “Suicide is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art.

In this book, David Frith looks at all the cricketers who committed suicide, looks at their careers, their highs and lows, their personal lives, and tries to investigate why they did what they did. He also compares cricket’s suicide rates with other sports, and asks the question on whether the game might be responsible for what these cricketers did.

The cricket part of the book is very beautiful. I learnt about so many new cricketers about whom I didn’t know anything. One of my favourite anecdotes was about the South African cricketer Aubrey Faulkner, who as a teenager once saw his dad assaulting his mom and he went and defended his mom and beat up his dad. There are some good sons still out there. Not everyone is patriarchal.

One of my favourite cricket anecdotes was about Tommy Cook who played county cricket in the 1920s and ’30s. This is how it goes.

“Among those 169 catches was one at Hastings in 1926 that might have tested today’s television technology. Arthur Carr of Nottinghamshire, England’s captain against Australia that summer and a mighty hitter, straight-drove Bowley and had the crowd applauding a certain six – until Cook, fielding in front of the sightscreen, leaped up and parried the ball goalkeeper-fashion before catching it in an outstretched right hand. Dudley Carew wrote that he would never forget ‘the almost comical look of anxiety upon Cook’s face as he judged the flight of the ball before jumping for it’.”

This is the kind of catch is amazing today, nearly a hundred years later. I have seen a few contemporary fielders take such amazing catches. To discover that it has all been done a hundred years back – it gave me goosebumps!

It was amazing to read about the cricketing exploits of 19th century greats, A.E.Stoddart, Arthur Shrewsbury and Albert Trott. It was so hard to believe that all these greats took their own lives. So heartbreaking. It was interesting to discover that the great cricket writer, R.C.Robertson-Glasgow, was a good player himself, and it was wonderful to read that he was a great person and made people laugh. It was also heartbreaking to read that he went through years of depression and one day he took his own life. I knew that David Bairstow (father of current English cricketer Jonny Bairstow) committed suicide,  and so did Harold Gimblett (because there was a book written about him), but I was surprised to discover that great players like Jack Iverson and Sid Barnes (who played for Bradman’s 1948 invincibles) also did that. The unbelievable case was that of Stan McCabe who fell from the top floor of his building. There were rumours for years that it was suicide (why would one of Australia’s greatest, Stan McCabe, do that?), but the coroner returned a verdict of accident. Some people are still not convinced with the official report. The most heartbreaking story was that of little known South African cricketer Siegfried Regenstein, who, one day, when he was just 28 years old, called his girlfriend and told her that things were getting very hard for him, and while his girlfriend was trying to comfort him on the phone and make him feel better, he took a gun and shot himself. I can’t imagine what kind of trauma his girlfriend would have gone through at the other end of the phone line, when she heard the shot.

Silence of the Heart‘ is an important book. It is a heartbreaking book. It is very different from David Frith’s other books, which are mostly filled with cricket. The cricket part of the book was very enjoyable, the suicide part of it was heartbreaking, the analysis part of it was inconclusive. I would like to say that I loved it, but how can I do that when a book is filled with devastating, tragic stories? But I will say this – I am glad I read it.

My mom was a very positive person. She always believed that the world was filled with beautiful, happy things and if there were bad things, they were few and far between. My dad on the other hand was the opposite – he believed that the world was filled with bad things and happy and beautiful things were few and far between and if something looked beautiful and happy, it should be regarded with suspicion as it was too good to be true. I believed in my mom’s vision. It has sustained me through life till now. But after reading this book, I am wondering whether my dad’s vision is closer to the truth. Because happiness seems to be elusive, while depression seems to be ever present.

Well, to uplift my mood, it is time to pick a sunny book to reflect the sunny weather outside.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Cricket is only superficially a team game. Essentially it is a lonely game, one for the keen individual, with multiple odds stacked against him. In this it is a fairly faithful reflection of life. And it offers regular opportunities to achieve sporting heroism. In addition, the fellowship that reaches well beyond the boundary and beyond the confined period of one’s own playing days is a great force for good. These are elements in tempting cricketers to play on and on. One county cricketer, playing for his third county club, did not mind the fact that the grounds on which he kept wicket and batted were usually almost empty. His name was in all the newspapers almost every day and in the annuals which will line the bookshelves. His life had meaning. He shared an attitude with Vin Diesel, one of the stars of the movie Saving Private Ryan, who said, ‘I like film-making so much more than theatre. I like the immortality.’”

Have you read ‘Silence of the Heart‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Ramachandra Guha’s new book ‘The Commonwealth of Cricket‘ when I was browsing a few days back. The subtitle of the book read ‘A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Subtle and Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind‘. I thought I’ll get it for my dad, as Guha writes about cricketers from the ’70s and sometimes goes back to old times, the cricketers whom my dad is fond off. But when the book arrived, I read the blurb and the first page, and before long I was deep into the book. I immersed myself into the book, for the past few days, and when I came up for breath after I finished the book, it was the wee hours of today morning.

The Commonwealth of Cricket‘ starts as a cricketing memoir. Guha talks about how he started watching cricket, when he started playing, his school and college cricketing days. At some point the books paints a wider canvas as Guha talks about cricket history, his favourite cricketers, the cricketers he has met, about the matches he has watched. Then he comes down to almost today, and spends some time on his brief stint as a cricket administrator and the interesting things that happened and the controversies that ensued.

If you are into cricket books, you know exactly what this is – memoir, cricket history and culture, descriptions and anecdotes of great players and favourite players from school, club, state and national teams, commentary on contemporary cricketing issues – this is exactly what C.L.R.James writes about in his masterpiece ‘Beyond a Boundary‘. Many Indian cricket writers, especially the good ones, are obsessed with C.L.R.James’ book. Some of them have tried writing their own versions of it. Rajan Bala did, Mukul Kesavan did. This is Guha’s version, his nod to the master. Most of the other books are interesting reads, but that’s it. But Guha’s book, it is better than that. It is amazing. Every page is beautiful. Reading this book gave me a lot of pleasure. I even took delight in finding mistakes in a couple of cricket statistics that Guha quotes 😁 The chapter on Sachin Tendulkar dragged on a bit, but outside of that, the book was beautiful and perfect.

My favourite chapters were the early ones which were autobiographical and the chapter on Guha’s favourite Pakistani cricketers. There is a long section in it on Javed Miandad, which I loved, and which made me smile. Guha also describes a anecdote in which he has a beautiful long conversation with a Pakistani cricket fan in Copenhagen (of all places). That was one of my favourite parts of the book. I also loved the parts of the book in which Guha talks about cricketers from a bygone era who had retired before I was born. I was delighted when I read a section dedicated to Keith Miller, one of my favourites. There was also one on Vijay Hazare which was very beautiful.

In the last chapter of the book, in which Guha gives a nod to philosopher William James by calling it ‘Varieties of Cricketing Chauvinism‘ (William James wrote a book called ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’), he says this –

“There are two fundamental axes of cricketing chauvinism : of nation and of generation. Every cricket fan almost without exception is born with them, and most cricket fans never outgrow them.”

I smiled when I read that. It is a beautiful chapter on being a cricket fan and of outgrowing this chauvinism and I felt that Guha’s own experience mirrored mine.

I loved ‘The Commonwealth of Cricket‘. The only problem I had with the book was the title. It could have been better. Guha has written four cricket books and edited a fifth one, and surprisingly this is the first cricket book of his that I have read. I don’t know how this compares to his masterpiece ‘A Corner of a Foreign Field‘, because I haven’t read that yet, but when I compare this to other cricket books I’ve read, I can say that this is one of my favourites. Cricket has a rich body of literature compared to other sports, and cricket books have been around for more than a century and a half, longer than any other sport. Guha’s newest book is a beautiful new addition to this vast, rich ocean. The master, C.L.R.James, would have been proud.

Guha’s last cricket book came out in 2004. After a long hiatus he has published his new one. I hope this is not his swansong and there is more left in the tank.

Have you read ‘The Commonwealth of Cricket‘? What do you think about it?

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