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Bookmark Balvinder Sandhu's memoirs of the 1983 World Cup winning team make for great reading

On the ball Balvinder Singh Sandhu
On the ball Balvinder Singh Sandhu

T here is a surprise on the cover of ‘The Devil's Pack'. The name of the author is spelt Balvinder Singh Sandhu. All these years, we wrote Balwinder. Why Balvinder, and not Balwinder? “It was always Balvinder,” says Sandhu. Why did he not correct the scribes then? “Well, they hardly wrote anything negative about me. So, Balwinder was fine,” he chuckles.

From bowling lethal in-swingers to penning a book has been a pleasant transition for Sandhu. “We all know the cricket part of my colleagues (from the 1983 team). I wanted to share the human side of their personalities. Sunil's (Gavaskar) technique or Kapil's (Dev) skills are well known. Little has been written about other aspects of their personalities. This book is an effort in that direction.”

How did the idea occur? “During the script reading of the movie ( Patiala House) I helped Akshay Kumar with action and bowling technique. I thought why not I tell the story of my colleagues. Storytelling in cricket has died. This one is about how I met them, how I was inspired by some of them. Of course, I lacked the language to write, so I took the help of Austin Coutinho, my friend for 30 years. He has done the caricatures too.”

As part of the 1983 World Cup winning team, Sandhu has lived those glorious moments countless times. “I know the matches by heart. I am sure most cricket lovers know them too. But there was so much that remained unsaid and unwritten. Not the dressing room stuff but the hard work and the sacrifices that later created such wonderful memories for us. I have them in this book.”

Kapil's English

Sandhu takes a dig at Kapil's English but also pays tribute to the captain's caring attitude towards his players. “He gave me an expensive pair of shoes for my Test debut. I can never forget it,” says Sandhu with gratitude.

Mohinder Amarnath also gets his due. Sandhu reveres him. The student in Sandhu highlights the lessons learnt from Mohinder, one of the finest exponents in Indian cricket. Sandhu writes about his guts, technique and amazing concentration. And then there is a reference that should rekindle some fond memories for Mohinder. “Females would swoon over his disarming smile and charming good looks,” writes Sandhu. This piece of information on Gavaskar demands attention: “Gavaskar, once padded up, did not like to be disturbed. He would stretch his muscles, shadow practice his shots and work himself mentally into a trance-like state. He would be in the dressing room physically but would be out there in the middle mentally – making notes on wind direction, state of the pitch, bowlers he would face etc. Everyone in the team knew that the legend was to be left alone at that time.” Sandhu has taken the liberty to bring out some anecdotes that are sure to embarrass some of his mates. A few of his colleagues would not love some of the observations that Sandhu has made. They are sure to create a flutter at some stage. “Yashpal (Sharma), in his heyday, would easily blow his top.” Yashpal would contest this today but not Sandeep Patil, who can laugh at himself. Known for his love for wild life, Patil would never tire of inviting friends to Kenya. On one of the trips, the tourists saw the animals sitting aside and watch the bus drive through. Sandhu writes, “Sandeep has come to Masai Mara (a game reserve) so often that the lions now come out to watch him whenever he visits.”

Roger Binny would love this: “Athletically built, he had an oversized derriere. He was well coordinated and was very, very fit.” K. Srikkanth, as Sandhu tells us, “had the habit of squinting at the sun and twirling the bat in his hands before taking his stance for each delivery. The Pakistani pace bowler (Sarfaraz Nawaz) was so annoyed by this habit that he once asked him what he would do in England where the sun is hardly visible. “I will look at the moon,” replied Srikkanth.”

Sandhu remembers manager P.R. Man Singh and dedicates a chapter to him, too. Published by Rupa, it is a different kind of book.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

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