Sundeep Misra brings the best of sports writers on a level playing field in “The Best of Indian Sports Writing”, says Vijay Lokapally

It is a jolly little gift. Some insightful pieces, some sparkling with wit, others replete with emotion. Then some which bring up the numbers. They combine to make the collection The Best of Indian Sports Writing. Thanks to Sundeep Misra, a widely travelled scribe, we have a selection of write ups from some of the finest writers and some promising ones.

From two seasoned writers I have had the privilege of knowing, S. Thyagarajan and K. P. Mohan, to my contemporaries like Kamesh Srinivasan, Sharda Ugra, Anand Philar, Rohit Brijnath, Suresh Menon and the promising Arindam Basu, they make this book an interesting compilation.

The criteria of picking the writers were tough. “Initially we thought of having a jury and asking every publication to send in their best piece of the year. We finally took the writers who wanted to contribute, publish the book and create a market for it,” Misra said.

It explains a couple of jarring names in this galaxy of quality sports journalists. Thyagarajan weaves a melancholic tale of Indian hockey’s worst moment. It came in the 1982 Asian Games final at the National Stadium in Delhi when Pakistan won the title contest 7-1, leaving a nation in gloom. He captures the anguish of the hockey fraternity in a telling style. For hockey you had to only read Thyagarajan and I suspect the stalwart must have shed silent tears that dark day.

Mohan’s ode to P. T. Usha is a gem. None has written on Indian athletics as Mohan and his dedication to the sport is unmatched. Having watched from close quarters, we knew athletes were close to his heart and Usha, a shining icon, indeed had a special place. The piece deals with Usha’s rise, glory and then fade out, presented in an emotional package. “For Usha, dreams never die; they are an unending medley,” is a moving culmination of a racy narration that marked Mohan’s work in a career spanning four decades.

Kamesh is acknowledged in the shooting fraternity as someone who knows more about the sport than those who conduct it. Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra has acknowledged Kamesh’s service to shooting in glowing terms in his autobiography. Kamesh pays the shooter a fitting tribute in ‘Perfection Is Not A Chimera’.

Sharda is an outstanding writer, capturing the soul of the subject, creating lively stories. Her journey to the Kashmir valley in search of cricket and cricketers is a standout contribution. I wonder how could she misspell Bishan Singh Bedi? That’s not like Sharda.

Another story that leaves you craving for more is the affable Clayton Murzello’s encounter with West Indies fast bowler Winston Davis, now confined to a wheel chair following an unfortunate accident that left him paralysed – he chopped a branch on to his head. Murzello, a compulsive newshound, gives you a poignant story you want to read again, and once again.

Menon (in praise of Rahul Dravid), Philar (writing on Formula1), Brijnath (a breathtaking tennis piece on Leander Paes), good old Mudar Patherya and Ayaz Memon, the affable Basu (on The Mystery of the Barefoot Footballers), the talented Partha Bhaduri (on India’s T20 exploit), Shantanu Guha Ray, Sukhwant Basra and the Toronto-based Sriram Dayanand complete the list in this must buy.

The editor of this anthology needs to be complimented. How was his experience of editing? “I really enjoyed. I am thankful to the publisher, (Shobit Arya), that he bought into the idea of creating something which hopefully goes on to becoming an annual series. I hope the next one is a much more rewarding experience.”

It will be worth waiting for!