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Wisden Online or Offline?

IN THE HINDU, the sanction of tradition is what it has acquired, spelling Visvanath with more than one `V'. A double emphasis on the `V' in which this virtuoso always played! Elsewhere, of course, we have always seen - all along the line GRV `covered' - the man's name being spelt as `Viswanath'. That is why (at the get-together to celebrate `WISDEN 100' on July 26, 2001, at the Oberoi in Mumbai) I felt shocked to discover, in the visuals screened there, the name of Viswanath being spelt as `Vishwanath' all the way. My sense of unease derived from the fact that we cricket historians swear by Wisden in the matter of nitpicking the spelling of a cricketer. The spell cast by GRV (as the stylist supreme) makes it imperative that the nine letters of Viswanath always `look' right to the eye. When therefore I got up to ask how, possibly, could they get such an Indian icon's spelling wrong, the genial Yajurvindra Singh (as Managing Director, Wisden Online India, and as the nations's record-holder for 7 catches in a match (4 off Chandra) in the January- February 1977 fourth Test vs Tony Greig's England at Bangalore) saw the faux pas for what it was and offered to take up the matter straightway. Whereupon Anthony Bouchier (as Director, Wisden Online) chipped in to suggest (not once but twice) that it would be best if I wrote to the Editor ofWisden for a clarification.

But why do I write to the Wisden Editor when this Cricketers' Almanack has, through the years, spelt the name right as `Viswanath, G.R. (Karn.) b Feb. 12, 1949'? By way of further enlightenment, just view the way Cricketers' Almanack itself is spelt in Wisden Online India's press release on the landmark Mumbai occasion. ``The Wisden cricketers almanack'' - it reads! No apostrophe after cricketers, no capital in the case of either the C in cricketers or in the instance of the A in almanack. Indeed, towards the end of this press release, even the capital in Wisden is merrily eliminated, as we are told: ``The launch of the wisden 100 is the first of a number of announcements of new activities by Wisden India over the next few months.'' Wisden with a capital W, next, in the very same sentence! Could you ever have expected such a take-it-or-leave-it styling in something issued in the name of Wisden?

That it is a sloppy approach by Wisden Online India Pvt. Ltd. becomes manifest as you read further into the weighty literature made available to the press at the function in question. To its credit, Wisden Online has tried to soften the blow, at one point, by identifying itself as `Wisden online' (no capital O)! What do you say of a presentation that, in according the Pakistan great 3 `spots' among the All-Time Top Bowlers, spells Fazal Mahmood as `Fazal Mohammed'? The fact that Wisden Cricketers' Almanack is in no way to blame for all this is underscored as we view the xeroxes (handed to us alongside) of The Listings forthcoming in the name of the most revered of all publications in the game. Both Fazal Mahmood and G.R. Viswanath are, predictably, spelt right throughout by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack here. Yet, in the papers issued in the name of Wisden Online India Pvt. Ltd., Viswanath is eye-jarringly spelt as `Vishwanath' no fewer than 9 times!

When the Online outlook is thus flawed, you no longer feel so startled as you encounter yet another basic spelling error - this time in its reference to V.V.S. Laxman's March 2001 Eden 281 (against Steve Waugh's Australia) rating as Number One among the `Indian Top 10 Innings Of All Time'. Here we get to read: ``Laxman's innings attained more luster.'' Does that sound lacklustre or lackluster? Just a couple of lines above this VVS noting (yet again on a page embossed with Wisden at top left), you come to know about how Laxman ``overtook Gavaskar's 18-year record of 236''. Not ``236 not out'', just ``236'' - to the consternation of all Chepauk! If you reason that this ``not-out'' missout is but a slip of the print, just two pages later you have the following: ``The eighth best innings was Gavaskar's 236 against West Indies at Madras in 1983.'' No the before West Indies, no not out after Gavaskar's 236. If Sunil's having remained unbeaten after scoring 236 were not all that important, why at all did Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1985 have to take the trouble to record: ``In scoring 236 not out, he (Gavaskar) also surpassed the previous highest score by an Indian in Test cricket. Gavaskar batted in all for 644 minutes and hit 23 4s and two 5s.''

But, then, the English language itself acquires a new hue in this description we have - in the `Top 10 Test Innings Of All Time'. Mercifully the offending page, here, is not embossed (at top left) with Wisden. Yet the page forms a part of the papers officially given out before the function began. And, on it, in picking Graham Gooch's 154 not out for England vs the West Indies at Headingley in 1991 as rating world no.3, we get to read: ``Graham Gooch had scored 333 against India the previous year, but this was his finest hour - or seven.'' What is this if not gibberish? What does it mean? Does it really form part of something given out in the hoary name of Wisden? The Cricketers' Almanack urgently needs to set its Indian house in order.

No way does Indian ire, in this direction, stem merely from the fact that we are peeved at Sachin Tendulkar's finding no placing in this prestigious Wisden listing. By contrast, Azhar Mahmood's 132 for Pakistan vs South Africa at Durban in 1997-98 wins All- Time no. 8 Wisden citation for its having been hit while that all- rounder ``seemed to be batting too low at no. 7'' against ``South Africa's pace attack'' having ``more depth than at any other time in their history: Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock supported by Fanie de Villiers and Lance Klusener''.

If that pace attack be the criterion, one does feel that Sachin Tendulkar's `going to Cape Town' with 169 (on Saturday, January 4, in the new-year season of 1997) - on a no less temperament- testing Newlands wicket against the quicksilver pace of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, Brian McMillan and Lance Klusener - deserved similar Wisden acknowledgment. (If necessary, after drawing Barry Richards' attention to this 169 knock's sustained Test quality on a truly lively pitch abroad, not at home!) After all, in the teeth of South Africa's having put up a total of 529 for 7 (decl.) against 0-1-down India in that January 1997 `core' second Test of the series at Cape Town, Sachin came up with his smash-hit 169 (26 fours; 254 balls), staying right up to the final whistle in our spirited 359 rejoinder staving off the follow-on, ultimately being undone only by the most sensational of boundary-line catches (Adam Bacher). This after Sachin's India (in its response to South Africa's 500-plus) had nosedived to 58 for 5. At this do-or-bye point, Sachin - his technique challenged by some of the most tempestuous pace we have viewed on sophisticated TV - had first, displaying an old head on young shoulders, to rebuild the innings. Thus only after passing his own innings-stabilising 50 could Sachin make bold to unfold the full array of shots in his quiver. How he did that is South African TV history but, evidently, it left Wisden not impressed enough.

Being Wisden's assessment, we should be leaving it at that. That is why it was futile for G.S. Ramchand (as India's victorious captain then) to have got up and spoken up so strongly for Jasu Patel's December 1959 Kanpur Test match figures of 61.3-23-124-14 as entirely worthy of inclusion among Wisden's All-Time Top 10. Ramchand was ruffled by Hallmark Software's Y. Ananth Narayanan's amazing argument (on behalf of Wisden Online) that Jasu Patel's feat was in a low-scoring match against not top-class Aussie batting. Colin McDonald, Neil Harvey, Norman O'Neill, Alan Davidson, Richie Benaud, Ken Mackay, this line-up that we `Green Park' in our mind-frame, what was it if not Australia's top order, end-1959? As for its being a low-scoring Test match, here are the facts: Australia took a 67-run lead over G.S. Ramchand's India in totalling 219 in that second Test at Kanpur. After that, India (on a wicket of distinctly dicey bounce) came up with 291. How Jasu Patel (25.4- 7-55-5), after his milestone first innings' 35.5-16-69-9, helped skittle out Benaud's Australia (needing 225 to win) for 105 is part of Indian cricket lore.

Where Gulabrai Ramchand lost perspective was in submitting that Wisden was concerned with ``Indian cricket and cricketers starting only with 1971''. This was clearly a snide remark directed at Ajit Wadekar - sitting in the front row! If Chepauk buffs must feel fulfilled at G.R. Viswanath's 97 not out (vs the West Indies on Saturday, January 11, 1975, against the electric pace of Andy Roberts - 20.5-5-64-7) figuring among the First Three in Wisden's `Indian Top 10' and as 38th in its world rankings, they would certainly be startled to read in the `Online' literature we got: ``The tenth best innings was Wadekar's 143 against New Zealand at Basin Reserve in 1986. This excellent innings set up India's first overseas series win.''

That 1968 should read 1986 in the Wisden Online India text, here, is deplorable. Moreover, commendable as was that 143 knock by way of being Ajit Wadekar's only Test hundred, pray how did it ``set up India's first overseas series win''? For Wadekar's 143, being in the third Test vs New Zealand at Basin Reserve (Wellington) during March 1968, only saw the Junior Nawab of Pataudi's India go up 2-1 in that four-match series. Short point: ``India's first overseas series win'' was thus yet to happen after that third Test in which Wadekar hit 143. Actually, only as a result of our 272-run victory in the fourth and final Test at Eden Park (Auckland) did India register its ``first overseas series win''. And, in that deciding fourth Test, Ajit scored just 5 and 1 (as we clinched the rubber 3-1), so the renewed query - how did Wadekar's ``excellent innings set up India's first overseas series win''? It was mainly thanks to Erapalli Prasanna's match analysis of 55.1- 26-84-8 and Bishan Singh Bedi's match figures of 34.4-19-35-5 (on top of Farokh Engineer's 48, Rusi Surti's 99 and Chandu Borde's 65 not out) that we won that fourth determinant Test (with Ajit Wadekar nowhere in the picture).

How facts get blurred in the Wisden Online narrative! Stand up and be counted, therefore, Mr. Anthony Bouchier. Put your men on a fact-finding mission - instead of passing the Viswanath bat to the Cricketers' Almanack Editor, who still must have reason to feel concerned at Wisden Online's being so `offline' in a country as cricket-oriented as India.


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