World Cup reading list

Because every cricket match must have a back story

Updated - June 29, 2019 09:34 pm IST

Published - June 29, 2019 04:00 pm IST

Isn’t the Cricket World Cup underway in England and Wales looking too clubby? By very obviously privileging commercial considerations over the sport’s spirit, the ICC has this year whittled down the number of teams in contention from 14 in recent World Cups to just 10. Gone from the fray, in the process, are what are called cricket’s “minnows”, weaker teams with the odds loaded against them but whose presence gives some ballast to the word “world” in the title, and lets the sport imagine what could be if it were more largehearted and embracing of the aspirations outside of its traditional geography.

Vivid argument

In the years since the 2011 and 2015 tournaments for instance, when Ireland captured everyone’s imagination with improbable wins against England and the West Indies, respectively, the team did acquire Test status. But TV advertising revenue follows the big teams, especially India — and the ICC for this year chose to ensure that the big teams would rule the broadcasts every single match, and it’s only Afghanistan that’s got the chance to valiantly show us why cricket needs to find ways to expand its footprint and make a case for itself to new fans worldwide.

If this sounds like a lament for cricket’s lost opportunity to bring the “minnows” to its greatest stage, as football does so much better in its World Cups, it is actually a bit more than that. For someone who routinely makes reading lists based on the nationalities of teams in contention in a given tournament, this year my register is shorter.

But here goes, books, most already read and some not, for each of the teams making a bid for the 2019 trophy, alphabetically:

Afghanistan: On my reading list this summer are Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi’s novels, starting with The Pearl That Broke Its Shell . But this World Cup is a perfect time to re-read Second XI: Cricket in Its Outposts by Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller. Wigmore’s chapter on Afghanistan is a recap of how cricket took hold in the country and offered hope and relief from the conflict, how so many players found their way to cricket in the refugee sprawls outside Peshawar, and how their exploits encompass so many aspirations in Afghanistan. And with Afghanistan the only “outpost” represented in the 2019 tournament, Second XI is a vivid argument for paying deeper attention to the game around the world, from Papua New Guinea to Scotland, China to the U.S.

Australia: With writers like Gideon Haigh, the country produces some of the best cricket writing these days; but two books on the making and transformation of Sydney recommend themselves: Mirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry, and Sydney by Delia Falconer.

Bangladesh: Ever since that upset in the 1999 World Cup, when they beat Pakistan, and then in 2011 when they hosted a riveting opening ceremony, Bangladesh have been an integral part of world cricket. My reading for the country this season is Tahmima Anam’s powerful trilogy — A Golden Age, The Good Muslim and The Bones of Grace — that takes the reader from the Liberation War to the present.

England: This is a better time than most to return to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth , with characters drawn from cricket-playing regions such as Jamaica and Bangladesh and with the current Brexit chaos as a sobering backdrop.

India: Historian Prashant Kidambi has just published Cricket Country: The Untold History of the First All India Team , including in its arc stories of great Indian wrestlers. Alongside, The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India , by Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik, provides a valuable argument against seeing the sport in India through the IPL prism.

Pakistan: Osman Samiuddin’s The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket is a must-read. Kamila Shamsie’s Kartography and Broken Verses are such superb novels, but with the cricket backdrop, it’s fun to find references to the sport and its players in the books.

New Zealand: It’s been 34 years since Keri Hulme’s The Bone People won the Booker Prize, and it remains a disappointment that the novel is still not widely stocked in bookshops.

South Africa: Sport in the country has long been the context to make a statement about the importance of inclusiveness, and J.M. Coetzee’s correspondence with Paul Auster ( Here and Now ) has meditations on why we watch cricket, among other things, and why victory is not everything.

Sri Lanka: The choice is obvious, for can there be a more perfect cricket novel than Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka?

West Indies: The list has to include Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James, but also recommended is Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart.

Mini Kapoor is Ideas Editor, The Hindu.

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