In this age of omnipresent television, we might one day forget that there ever was a time when cricket was not telecast live-even on radio. Indeed, even the match reports were published a few days after the matches had ended and a whole lot of people were devoid of the pure pleasures of watching a cricket match.For a majority of the populace, statistics was the only connection to the game and the players. The onus of giving the general masses the feeling of watching cricket from the stands fell squarely on the writers. Sir Neville Cardus was magnificent in that regard and a few pages into the book,”The Romance of Indian Cricket”, you realize that the Late Mr. Sujit Mukherjee might as well be called the “Cardus of India”.
He takes a few of the cricketing heroes of the then nascent Indian Test cricket scene and presents brief profiles on each one of them. Reading about the lethal Nissar-Amar combination or the Hazare-Merchant friendly rivalry is almost as good as watching them – so stimulating is the vivid imagery that he presents. He doesn’t dwell much on the statistics from the game but on the aesthetics of the game. And therein lies this book’s greatest strength. In eleven short, crisp essays, Mr. Mukherjee presents to the world some of the most eminent Indian cricketers from the then 30 years young Indian Test Cricket history, who would have otherwise been known only by their numbers. Visualizing how someone like Mushtaq Ali or Lala Amarnath made their runs or how Vinoo Mankad took all those wickets is much more entertaining and appetizing than just staring at the numbers.
That he focuses just on Test players means that a majority of brilliant Indian cricketers from the late 1890s to the early 1930s do not find a place here. And the fact that very few writers – of note or otherwise, have written on Indian Cricket extensively, means that those 40 years would most probably exist almost exclusively in the newspapers of that era, that is, if those news papers themselves exist. A whole era would exist in near total obscurity – an implication that puts the importance of this book in perspective.
Although he has written for just a little over 150 pages, Mr. Mukherjee has given a glimpse of cricket in the era of communal, franchise cricket of the Quadrangulars and Pentagulars ; making the recounting of early years of Ranji Trophy and Test Cricket in India just a bonus. This recollection of history makes the book invaluable and justifies the exorbitant price that I paid ,at least at the time of writing, for the only copy in circulation. It’s a shame that this book is now out of print. The historical value notwithstanding, the lucid writing in itself would have been a lesson for any budding writer. If nothing else, Sujit Mukherjee proves that the romance of cricket lies not in the numbers in a statistician’s workbook but on the hallowed grounds within the ropes, where those numbers are written with sweat and blood.