Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Saturday, April 15, 2000

Front Page | National | International | Regional | Opinion | Business | Sport | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Sport | Previous | Next

Fiction spun out of facts

THE GREAT CRICKET BETTING SCANDAL by Ted Corbett. Published by The Parrs Wood Press, Manchester 2000. GBP 7.99.

WHY DOES murder and mayhem occupy the minds of most writers who turn from writing cricket fact to cricket fiction?

Ted Dexter and Clifford Makins's highly-forgettable `Test Kill' opened with the first day of an Ashes Test at Lord's and the fast bowler keeling over dead before sending down the first ball. From such a pinnacle of possibility, this dreadful book went downhill. Mike Marqusee's colourful Slow Turn opened in India with a one-in-a-million first line, ``In Madras the umpire was murdered and it made us all uneasy.'' From that auspicious beginning, Slow Turn took more hairpin bends than a Bollywood potboiler, but Marqusee's big ``debut'' was to come only a few years later with a stinging social commentary on English cricket.

The latest offering to the world of cricket fiction comes from one of this paper's own. TheHindu and TheSportstar's England correspondent Ted Corbett, had produced a novel that could well be called cricket `faction' - a lot of fiction spun out from some fact. The Great Cricket Betting Scandal - the cheekiest kind of book title in the era of `Naive and Stupid' and the Chandrachud enquiry - opens with the captain of the England cricket team wondering why the gentlemen of the press couldn't get proper jobs - like clearing garbage.

From there, he is led through many a mysterious corridor to meet with a man called only The Captain and handed the secret diaries of his predecessor who undertook a tour to India in 1906. The story of the original Great Cricket Betting Scandal is told through the voice of this turn-of-the-century captain, Bernard Collinson, and his adventures at a time when the sun never set on the British empire or indeed its cricket team.

Corbett's India is not infested with snake-charmers or elephants but some very familiar characters: two cricket Boards which change itineraries rapidly sending a touring team crisscrossing the sub-continent, a travel agent with an advanced degree in smoothening ruffled feathers, a rival captain with a close resemblance to Javed Miandad, autograph hunters, the press and above all, the bookies and punters whose shadows hover over the story like ghosts. Much like they do over international cricket today.

There are some real figures from Britain's imperial past - Lord Curzon, Lord Harris, Lord Hawke and W. G. Grace - and the cricketers of the time: the formidable figure of Wilfred Rhodes and a young Jack Hobbs on his first tour under Collinson.

This unusual first-time skipper stumbles into the world of intrigue, international espionage and honeytraps to murder, kidnapping, an act of great deceit on the cricket field and a great betrayal off it. All this on a tour where an attack of the Delhi belly was expected to produce the greatest challenge. Running parallel to an engrossing storyline is an accurate account of the vanities and frailties of competitive cricketers and the fairly sordid inner workings of a cricket team; the result, no doubt, of Corbett's 20-plus years of cricket writing.

Readers of Corbett's `Diaries' in TheSportstar will recognise and take pleasure from the dry humour in the book. And all fans of surprise endings, will take delight from the couple of savage twists the author has introduced into the tail.

Given the great drama that accompanies the Indian team like its baggage on tour, it is a great pity that nothing of this kind is being written in this country. The truth around Indian cricket may be stranger than fiction, but since the whole truth is hardly being told on a regular basis, how about some fiction, complete with the kind of intrigue that Corbett has dished out in this raucous bazaar of a book?

Which brings back the question: why so much murder and mayhem? Probably because despite the whites, the virtues of `walking', the match referee, and the umpire's decision being final, cricket is not, a retreat to an idyllic, utopian world. It is merely another stage on which to act out the far-from-noble preoccupations of this one.


Send this article to Friends by E-Mail

Section  : Sport
Previous : Those Wisden greats I saw
Next     : County player exposes himself in Wisden

Front Page | National | International | Regional | Opinion | Business | Sport | Entertainment | Miscellaneous | Features | Classifieds | Employment | Index | Home

Copyright © 2000 The Hindu

Republication or redissemination of the contents of this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of The Hindu