When I was 20, I never aimed to be a cricket writer. At 50, I can’t think of being anything else. Fortuitously, I got a break in a sports magazine while I was studying law and got hooked. Or stumped if you prefer.
My passion for cricket, which was submerged under the conventional pursuit of academia, suddenly found new and full expression. Law took a back seat as I got a ringside view of cricket, first in Bombay, then India, and then all over the world.
Along the way, I have been editor of a city eveninger and a morning entertainment supplement but cricket writing has never—never—been out of my system.
I have pursued this on holidays from mainline editorship, sometimes combined the “news potential” of cricket with mainline duties, often just bulldozed my way through the objections of proprietors and senior management to watch say Tendulkar’s 100th Test (in England, 2002) or India reach the finals of the 2003 World Cup.
What this passion for cricket means I need hardly expound. Every one of you has obviously experienced it which is why you are where you are now. It is as quintessentially Indian as dal and rice. The game may have been imported from
England, but as the eminent sociologist Ashis Nandy tells us in his seminal work, The Tao of Cricket, “cricket is an Indian game invented by the British.”
I have been a trifle self-obsessed only to drive home a point: that we are all ruled by this passion and discover it in a myriad ways, but very few are able to convert that passion into a vocation.
In a media environment that is dynamic and
growing rapidly and providing more opportunities, I hope some—if not most—of you will be able to actualise your dream.
For all of those of you desirous of making a career in cricket writing or broadcasting, you could not have chosen better. There is no game more exhilarating, more noble. No other sport teaches you as much about life.
So mark your crease, take your guard, be alert, but be relaxed. Cricket journalism is a job undoubtedly — the best job in the world.
There is no foolproof formula for becoming a successful cricket writer. But some things help. These, according to me, are:
1) Know the Laws: You’ll be surprised to know how many people, including players and specialists, don’t know the laws of cricket. For instance, at Bombay in 1987, West Indies opener Desmond Haynes protested with the umpire after he was given out ‘handled the ball’. Haynes later confessed he did not know that such type of dismissal existed.
2) Do your homework: Many journalists land up at matches or interviews without sufficient background work. History of a venue, facts about players add value to stories/interviews. Poor preparation leads to poor writing.
3) Use statistics as a prop, not as the story itself except in very rare circumstances. Most cricket writers today rattle of stats as narrative. There is nothing more boring.
4) Look for unusual happenings/events. The modern game is covered so extensively covered by TV that readers (who were viewers too) are looking for that something ‘extra’ in a cricket writer’s story.
5) Keep yourself updated with happenings/players all over the cricket world. As in law, ignorance is no excuse in journalism.
6) Strike a rapport with players/officials without sacrificing journalistic integrity or clout. Let them know early on that you are entitled to your opinion.
7) Read as many newspapers/websites and especially of competition to know who is doing what, whether you are missing stories, are you ahead of the pack.
Cricket lends itself to literature, and there are hundreds of fine authors and housands of wonderful books that one can read. It’s an amazing game where one can discover a new facet or nugget of information even if you read the same book again and again, so reading on cricket is actually a lifelong process.
Given the volume of writing available—and the outstanding authorships—it is virtually impossible to make a short list of five or six books. But here goes:
1) The Laws of Cricket: for obvious reasons.
2) Farewell to Cricket: The autobiography of the greatest player the world has ever seen. Sir Donald Bradman has an elephant’s memory and his prose is lucid.
3) The Art of Cricket: Again authored by the Don, this is a comprehensive study on how to play the game – right from choosing equipment to field setting, to captaincy.
4) The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley: a superb treatise on one of the most intriguing facets of the game.
5) Cardus in the Covers: Actually you can pick any book by Sir Neville for failproof delight. Arguably the finest writer on the game, unarguably the most romantic, easily the best on the ears.
6) Sunny Days: A simply told, fast paced narrative of the early years in international cricket of one of India’s best-loved cricket sons, Sunil Gavaskar.
7) Tiger’s Tale: A pithy autobiography by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who lost one eye in a car accident yet played at the international level, became the youngest captain in the history of the game in 1962, and used spin bowlers to make India a force to reckon with.
8) A History of Indian Cricket: This tome by Mihir Bose is well-researched and very well written. A must in a cricket lover’s library.
9) Wicket in the East: A fine anthology of essays, portraits collated and edited by Ramchandra Guha who, apart from being a social philosopher of distinction is also one of India’s finest cricket writers.
10) Finally, the Wisden Cricketers Almanac. Called the bible of the game, this is no euphemism, believe me.