Not Just Cricket review: On and off the field

Sport is never bereft of its societal moorings which often serve as its context. Be it wars, inflation, communal harmony or the lack of it, and weather patterns, sport like the arts at large, is captive to these varied influences even if it strives hard to offer distraction and relief from these same factors. By extension, sports-writing too is obviously marinated in what transpires on and off the field.

It is this all-encompassing trait that proves to be the bedrock of veteran scribe Pradeep Magazine’s Not Just Cricket. The book is a memoir that juxtaposes Magazine’s roots of being a displaced Kashmiri Pandit with his eventual metamorphosis as a sports writer, who rose through the ranks at The Indian Express, India Today, Pioneer and Hindustan Times. The author, who reached his acme as a sports editor, is now a columnist.

Shredded roots

Decades ago, Magazine had written another tome Not Quite Cricket, which dealt with match-fixing. At that point with all the details being hazy, the book was a bit underwhelming though it seems to have been prescient in retrospect. Magazine’s latest literary endeavour does have its share of spice as he deals with controversies that marred Indian cricket, be it player face-offs, match-fixing or the Greg Chappell issue.

And yet, at 347 pages, this is an effort that is easy to read, has depth, reveals the intricacies of sports reporting and isn’t averse to reveal the author as he is, warts and all. Above all, there is a larger worldview helped both by his travels within India and across borders while pathos too chimes in when he makes those trips to Kashmir, trying to touch base with his shredded roots. The gaze is gentle, the words never judgemental even if at times he tends to let off steam at the machinations within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Magazine isn’t merely offering snapshots or player-profiles. He is also constantly placing them within the boundaries imposed by a nation in a state of flux. India’s post-independence pangs to its gradual evolution through the religion-cum-caste matrix before liberalisation and relatively better social and economic indices helped cricket gain heft, are all mentioned. He also admits that the country’s sensibilities may have changed but there was a time when its sporting moments weren’t essentially coated in the “kind of jingoism we abhor”.

Dressing room churn

There are clues too about how sports correspondents chase stories, the lead could be a casual remark or an innocuous overhearing of conversations at a bar, which later acquires meaning following some phone calls. Proximity to players and the resultant bias-prejudice filter that troubles most journalists are also analysed when Magazine at times grapples with whether to write a story or instead alert the subjects about an issue festering inside the dressing room. That and the propensity to savour a tipple at Press Clubs, are acknowledged. There is the odd factual error like a reference to a 1996 World Cup game (pg 125) between India and Australia which the latter won while the author erroneously declared that the former triumphed.

But overall, this is a book that chronicles the varied scripts that propped up Indian cricket while also helping the reader understand a nation’s churn with Magazine offering insights.

Not Just Cricket; Pradeep Magazine, Harper Collins, ₹599.

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2022 11:08:39 pm |