When I was starting out as a sports journalist, two youngsters were spoken of highly: Ayaz Memon in Mumbai and Pradeep Magazine in Chandigarh. By a happy coincidence, both have just published books that are best described as “necessary”. Magazine’s Not Just Cricket is a memoir of cricket, Kashmir and journalism while Ayaz has edited Indian Innings: The Journey of Indian Cricket from 1947.
I say ‘necessary’ for obvious reasons. A book like Indian Innings (full disclosure: I have an essay in it) traces the evolution of cricket in Independent India through the eyes and minds of those who were present at the matches as well as those who wrote opinion pieces with the benefit of hindsight. Historical importance is given the same importance as good writing; in most cases these go together.
This means that some of the finest writers on the game in the country rub shoulders with writers who have penned the occasional piece. Some top players have written too. With not just Indian cricket, but Indian cricket writing flowering in the 1990s, there was clearly a wider range to choose from and Ayaz has chosen well.
The quirky and the personal have their places too, as do the controversies from the match fixing issue at the turn of the century to the fallout between India’s two top players of the 1980s, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. A short Explainer by Ayaz at the end of some chapters places the issues or personalities discussed in context.
Not since An Indian Cricket Omnibus edited by Ramachandra Guha and T. G. Vaidyanathan (1994) has an anthology arrived to give both fans and aficionados alike an enjoyable account of the game in the country. Indian Innings is a wonderful appetiser for those who would like to taste the stories of Indian cricket more fully; each of the essays could be forerunners to deeper studies on the subject, spawning more books.
The subtitle of Magazine’s Not Just Cricket is ‘A Reporter’s Journey Through Modern India’, and this is necessary for entirely different reasons. For one, there is the story of Magazine’s growth as a Kashmiri boy and the later visits to the city and home he had left behind. There is a growing self-awareness here, a compassion that flows naturally into in his writings on cricket and cricketers.
Then there is the story of an Indian sports journalist, written with honesty and an appreciation of the struggles and lucky breaks besides the politics of the profession. Magazine’s strength as a cricket writer and his role as a reporter and upsetter of apple carts (with ‘inside’ stories) make the cricket sections come alive. Everything is thus relevant.
I enjoyed both books — one a putting together of other people’s stories, and the other giving shape to one’s own. Both require a certain amount of digging into the past and a natural, inevitable way of connecting it to the present. And both Ayaz Memon and Pradeep Magazine have done this well.