Not Just Cricket: A Reporter’s Journey through Modern India
by Pradeep Magazine
Publisher: HarperCollins (2021)
The author writes very passionately and affectionately about his childhood spent in Kashmir and has vivid recollection of his interactions with neighbours and his closely knit family. The growing up years with friendly and warm Muslim friends and caretakers have formed his world view of outside world with kindness and empathy. Despite his family uprooting itself from Kashmir and the bitterness of such movement have not made Pradeep bitter. In fact he makes a conscious effort to go behind the obvious to get to the pulse of the people around him, in a ‘past meets the present’ milieu capturing his unbiased findings after talking to people.
Pradeep’s book captures the growth of cricket from a favorite pastime of masses to a mob frenzy driven religion it has become now in India, deftly capturing the commentary hearing radio aficionados change into a chest thumping mob frenzy during live matches or to televised audience. The rise of various erstwhile stars like Bishan Singh Bedi, MAK Pataudi, his interactions with Kapil Dev while he’s in the makings of a future star all make for an interesting read for cricket lovers. His observer-journalist mode is spot on when he writes about cricket leapfrogging from an elite only sport in the 1970s-80s, to a mass hysteria based game of 2000s and beyond. I have a grouse that he focused mostly on cricketers based in North India while ignoring popular yesteryear cricketers from other parts of India.
His trips to Pakistan during India’s memorable trip in 2004 series is well written (and I remember reading an earlier book by Rahul Bhattacharya ‘Pandits from Pakistan’ which made the entire book about that series which was very funny).
There are going to be common chapters from ‘Not quite Cricket’ when the author talks about agent-player-administration nexus and the last few chapters are a big lengthy when the same topic is covered with proven /unproven allegations about involved Indian cricketers.
Pradeep tried to bring a ‘Forrest Gump’ effect of a changing India while he chronicled Indian cricket through the 1970s into the 2020s but the passing references and their impact on cricket played during the milestone years of India are not felt by the reader. Those dates/ years feel like footnotes and don’t make an impact in the sense the author wanted to. (The failure of ‘Lal singh Chadha’ is fresh in mind, excuse me).
Overall, the book reads like a walk-through of the coming-of-age of Indian cricket while the protagonists changed from Wadekar, Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, BS Bedi, Ganguly, Sachin (less about him in the book), Azharuddin and others but the common thread running through the book is neo riches make for a greedy broth that’s cooked by BCCI and its administrators. The interest taken by political class is no surprise but a few behind-the-scenes incidents rise a brow in the reader.
Overall, my verdict is a 3 out of 5, the book makes a breezy reading. The author didnt try make anything sensational but covers most of the incidents as a matter of factly which maybe due to his journalistic leaning while writing a book.
The one thing which jumps out of the book is the author’s longing and love for his homeland and a desire to go back to his roots and begin where it all started. The chapters on his numerous trips to Kashmir are laden with nostalgia, tingling sensation of a bygone era which was a real ‘jannat’.
I felt the chapters on SC monitored probes could have been shortened as an average reader (maybe I am not an average !) may find a bit uninteresting as lots of insinuations and lesser facts get the reader crowded in his judgement. The match fixing scandal of 1999, spot fixing scandals of 2013 and conflict of interest which currently dogs the game are a blot on the game and many avid followers of the game lost interest when these stories broke out (I was one of them).