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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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I discovered ‘The Wit of Cricket’ last month, when I went to the bookshop to get another book that I had ordered. I picked this and a few more and suddenly my resolution of not buying any book during that month, evaporated into thin smoke. But this was a book that I couldn’t resist, because though I have read many cricket anecdotes forwarded to me by friends by email and also have read anecdotes in different books, I haven’t read any books which had many of the anecdotes compiled in one place. So when I saw this book, I got quite excited and got it. I started reading it during the read-a-thon and finished it a few days later. Here are the review (short) and the excerpts (long) 🙂
 
What I think
 
The book is a collection of humorous anecdotes told by various interesting characters, some of whom have played cricket, and others who were cricket commentators. It has many of the famous anecdotes and many less known ones. It is anglo-centric with some Australian flavour – humour from other countries like India, South Africa, West Indies and others is nearly absent. Inspite of this limitation, this book is excellent. It makes one laugh. Many of the anecdotes are very funny and I nearly got a bellyache laughing 🙂 Many of the anecdotes are not politically correct, which adds to the humour. If you are a cricket fan, you will love this book.
 
Excerpts
 
It was a difficult choice for me to select a few anecdotes to give here, because I had many favourites. However I have tried giving a few below, to give you a flavour of the book. I have also posted a couple of anecdotes from this book on my blog here. I have given the anecdotes under two categories – legendary ones and the no-so-famous ones. Though I have categorized them thus, both of them are equally enjoyable reads. I also hope that the anecdotes which are not politically correct don’t annoy you.
 
Even if you are not a cricket fan, I hope that these anecdotes make you laugh and brighten up your day. (more…)

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