Treasure trove of tales from green

Treasure trove of tales from green

Myth-Busting Indian Cricket Behind the Headlines by Gulu Ezekiel. Rupa. Pages 264. Rs295

Book Title: Myth-Busting Indian Cricket Behind the Headlines

Author: Gulu Ezekiel

Rohit Mahajan

Viv Richards, probably the most fearsome destructor of bowlers, trusted God to protect his head from the hard red ball hurled at him by fast bowlers. In an interview in 2013, he talked about playing for his team, West Indies, in nearly spiritual tones: “I don’t think I would have done that cap any justice if I had anything else on the head… I felt God will protect me from whatever I was facing out in the middle.”

It seems that Richards didn’t trust God and his cap completely — at least not when he was donning the cap of a team in Australia or England. Gulu Ezekiel writes that the great West Indian occasionally did come to the conclusion that, just in case God decided to forsake him, a helmet might be useful to protect his skull.

Viv Richards

Richards was lucky he never had to face the scary West Indian fast bowlers in international cricket; in domestic competition, he averaged 27.32 against Barbados and Jamaica, the best fast bowling teams in the West Indies, with only one 100 in 24 innings.

There is circumstantial evidence, writes Ezekiel, that Richards did don the helmet when playing in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC) in the late 1970s. The series had several fast bowlers Richards had to face. After extensive research, Ezekiel writes, he found one photograph of Richards in a helmet — “in the nets during the second season of WSC (1977-78)”.

Ezekiel thinks a blow to the head from Greg Chappell — of all people! — in 1978 may have made Richards aware of the softness of his head and the absenteeism of God in cricketing matters. Ezekiel also quotes an interview of English cricketer Pat Pocock, who says: “Viv Richards says he didn’t wear a helmet. He bloody did: he wore one twice against Surrey when Clarke was playing. Fearsome, fearsome bowler.” This Clarke is none other than the legendary Barbadian Sylvester Clarke — who died aged only 44 in 1999 — who is considered as the meanest and scariest of all fast bowlers. Pocock says even Richards was wary of him. In short, the fearsome Richards was not fearless.

The great Vinoo Mankad’s family has ceaselessly tried to get the term “Mankading” erased from cricketing vocabulary. Running a batsman out while he's backing up too far at the non-striker’s end continues to arouse passions. Mankading has long been a legal mode of dismissal; it’s only in recent years that the MCC, the custodian of cricket’s laws, has tried to remove stigma from it — now the laws state that if he/she leaves the crease early, “the non-striker is liable to be run out”.

Ezekiel shows that at the time of the first Mankading incidents — in Australia in 1947-48 — Mankad was not censured. There was no moral outrage in Australia, not even among the fans on the ground, as this report from The Cricketer shows: “Brown was run out, backing up, by the bowler, Mankad, after he had had an earlier warning. The crowd realised the fairness of the bowler's action and cheered him.”

An Australian crowd cheered Mankad for running out a batsman who was getting an unfair advantage by starting the run early — clearly, the crowd instinctively knew right from wrong. Though Mankad was criticised, too, and the crowd “reacted unfavourably” when he repeated the dismissal in the Sydney Test; Brown himself was very supportive of him.

Mankad was reportedly upset over the criticism. Ezekiel quotes a report from January 1948 which said Bill Brown called Mankad and “told him not to worry any more — that he, Brown, was to blame. Mankad admitted, however, that he was still upset. Brown suggested a drink. Mankad, a strict teetotaller, said he was sorry, he could not accept. However, MS Ranvirsinhji, nephew of the famous Ranji, will deputise for him”.

Ezekiel has shown that most people in the 1940s — including Mankad’s victim Brown and Australian captain Don Bradman — had a greater understanding of fairplay than those who distil cricket’s spirit at the MCC. Mankading, henceforth, must be used with an approving rather than derogatory connotation.

Did Salim Durani really hit sixers on demand? Did Kapil Dev’s famous knock of 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 World Cup escape recording due to a BBC strike? Was Courtney Walsh — who didn’t ‘Mankad’ Saleem Jaffar in Lahore in 1987 — really a paragon of virtue? Was the famous Madras tied Test of 1986 really tied? Was Kapil Dev really the first Indian pace bowler to make an impact?

In this delightful book, Ezekiel tackles these questions — plus many more — and busts many myths. It’s a treasure trove of tales from the green. These tales, it’s obvious, Ezekiel has gathered over a lifetime, with great affection for the sport and its characters.