From Bradman to Kohli – A Book Review
It took 71-years and eleven tours down under before Virat Kohli finally ended the wait for Godot, triumphantly holding aloft the victor’s trophy, heralding a new year, and a fresh beginning for his country. India had won a Test series down under for the first time. The wait for prolific Cricket writer, historian and statistician, Kersi Meher-Homji’s 15th book – From Bradman to Kohli: Best of India-Australia Test Cricket, has fortunately been a tad shorter.
The release of the book could not have possibly have been timed better. Tracing the seven decades of history of India-Australia clashes starting with the first tour, months after India’s independence and the bloodbath that followed from partition of the country, Meher-Homji, who has personally witnessed all but the first series against Bradman’s soon to be) Invincibles, has written a definitive account that future chroniclers will be grateful they have as a reference.
For those familiar with the writings of this venerable Parsi gentleman who came to Australia in the 1970s from his native Bombay and made Sydney his home, it will not be a surprise that the book is a treasure trove of trivia and an outpouring of quirky twists and turns. If you would like to buy this book as an addition to your collection of boring history books to be seen but not read, spare yourself the trouble. If however you want an entertaining series of stories, some from the author’s personal experiences, many heard from the doyens of India-Australia Cricket, and yet others gleaned from diligent research, all presented in an unusual format polished with scarcely believable anecdotes, you might just want to procure a copy of this limited edition book brought out by the Cricket Publishing Company.
Needless to remind those familiar with this publisher, the collection of photographs, much of them from the personal collection of Ronald Cardwell (who owns the company), by themselves make this a book worth preserving for the ages. If any icing on the cake was really necessary, two forewords (yes two) from Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar, make this title a must have for collectors.
As far as quirky stories go, the possible alternative reason for India’s victory at Bombay in 1964 that Meher-Homji presents, is hard to beat. Australia’s Norm O’Neill was in magnificent form. But he could not help his country win because an Indian, Titori Pav, prevented him from doing so.
You will not find Pav in the list of Indian cricketers. For, like the author, he was a Cricket tragic more than a player. But he did have one weapon no Indian Cricketer of the time possessed – the ability to ensure bad luck for whoever he wished well or shook hands with. The victim’s fate could be anything from a broken arm to influenza and a lot in the middle.
Cricketers in the know, kept well away from Pav. Unfortunately, word of his prowess had not yet reached the Australian camp. So when a devious Cricket Club of India member introduced Titori Pav to O’Neill as a diehard fan (which he was), O’Neill had little hesitation in shaking his hands and accepting the warm wishes. Thirty minutes after the match started, O’Neill came down with severe stomach cramps. They were so severe, he took no further part in the match. India won by two wickets with….hold your breath…. 30 minutes to spare!
The personal account of the author sitting in the stands during the 1969 Bombay Test when riots broke out at Brabourne Stadium after umpire Sambhu Pan gave a wrong decision to dismiss Venkataraghavan, comes alive for the reader when he writes: “Terrified, I wanted to go home but was blocked by men with broken bottles.”
It evoked in this reviewer harrowing memories of sitting with my wife between groups of incensed drunk youths throwing bottles at the Eden Gardens as India collapsed against Sri Lanka during the 1996 World Cup. These are not experienced you ever want to relive.
While the 1959-60 series is remembered for India’s first ever victory at Kanpur against Australia thanks to Jasu Patel’s 9 for 69, Meher-Homji informs us that the next Test at Bombay almost didn’t take place because the Indian Board had not coughed up the guarantee money promised to the Australians. Richie Benaud and manager Sam Loxton ( of the Invincibles fame) were forced to threaten ‘no pay no play’ before the money arrived on the morning of the first day. 40,000 spectators were already seated at the ground by then.
In the first chapter aptly titled ‘The Pioneers’, the author provides an excellent report on the first series between the two teams. And he positively waxes eloquent while describing the batting of his all-time hero Vijay Hazare.
However at the end of the book, when it is time to choose the best Australian XI against the Best Indian XI over the course of the 70-years, it is the Statistician in the author that comes to the fore, and grudgingly, but firmly, he refuses to include Hazare in his XI, ceding the place to more statistically deserving batsmen.
To this reviewer, who has been at the receiving end of hours of excited descriptions of Hazare’s genius in years past, the fact that he doesn’t find a place in Meher-Homji’s XI is the true reflection of the sincerity and detached dedication with which the author approaches his craft.
I opened the chapter on the SCG Test match of the 2007-08 series with some trepidation. How would the author, born and brought up in India, but having lived 60% of his life in Australia, approach the Monkeygate issue?
I need not have worried. Kersi Meher-Homji is nothing if not scrupulously fair and logical. He writes: “Rank bad umpiring decisions and cultural ignorance made this one of the most unpleasant in Test history.” He looks at both sides of the story – the episode itself with its different versions of what was said, Mike Procter’s clear message that he believed the Australian players not the Indians (despite any conclusive evidence either way) and the obvious charges of racism levelled against Procter by Gavaskar and all of India. This is followed by a dispassionate discussion of lack of understanding of cultural sensitivities on both sides. His conclusion is fair and logical.
For a book that is only 150 pages long, from Bradman to Kohli packs a punch as powerful as any of Kohli’s drives. It must be on every Cricket lover’s reading list for 2019.
There is only one point on which I would take issue with the book, and there my angst is with the publisher rather than the author. It is staggering that this book, with its huge appeal to the lay reader and the connoisseur alike, is being marketed as a limited edition. It should be adorning every major bookstore and airport stand from Adelaide to New Delhi. It should be widely available on online marketplaces like Amazon. By restricting access to it, the publisher is doing great disservice to the Cricket loving public.
From Bradman to Kohli is available for purchase @ A$45 a copy. Check out www.cricketpublish.com for details.