Mihir Bose started writing about cricket in the 1970s and bore witness to the glory days as well as the low phases of Indian cricket, whose rollercoaster history is the subject of his new book.
On 15 December 1951, I was taken by my parents to the flat of a close friend of my mother, Ella mashi, or aunty Ella, which overlooked Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium. It was the second day of the second Test match between India and England. As I recall, we were meant to watch Vijay Hazare grind England to dust. But, in trying to hook a short-pitched ball from the England fast bowler Fred Ridgway, he played it onto his forehead, cutting it badly. I was five years old and can still recall the surprise and anguish we all felt on the balcony as Hazare, soon after his injury, got out.
Since then I have been privileged to witness some of Indian cricket’s great moments, from Subhash Gupte mesmerising batsmen to Tiger Pataudi making us Indians believe that the game was thrilling. I have seen all India’s seven Test triumphs in England starting with the historic one at the Oval in 1971.
My first journalistic assignment was the 1974 Indian tour of England and my first match, India vs Hampshire at Southampton. I was in the Lord’s press box when Kapil Dev lifted the 1983 World Cup, also when he hit the winning run to seal India’s first Test win at Lord’s in 1986. But I also watched as India were bowled out for 42 in 1974. In 1979, I reported from the Oval on one of the most thrilling Tests ever seen and, in 1990, from Old Trafford when Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test century. I was at Chennai in December 1983 when Sunil Gavaskar scored his thirtieth Test century, going past Donald Bradman’s record of 29 centuries and in Kolkata for Mohammad Azharuddin’s magical debut in the 1984–85 series. And I was there for India’s first ever tour of South Africa which was also the first non-white cricket tour of that country.
I have covered several World Cups including the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and the 2011 World Cup in India where M.S. Dhoni emulated Kapil Dev. Lalit Modi gave me the first and only interview he gave after he lost his baby, the IPL, and I have witnessed the impact Dhoni and Kohli have made. In 1991, I played a part in making sure Gavaskar met Nelson Mandela and I accompanied him to the great man’s house in Soweto for a historic visit. Over the years, I have provided advice to Indian board members, including introducing them to Naynesh Desai, a London lawyer, who was very helpful in getting Jagmohan Dalmiya elected as the first Indian chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
I have been chronicling Indian cricket and Indian society for nearly forty years. During that time, I have met many cricketers, both from India and other countries, as well as officials and fans. Indian cricket has also given me much journalistic satisfaction and my book, A History of Indian Cricket, published in 1990, was the first book on an Indian theme to win the Cricket Society Literary Award.
Indian cricket has given me much joy but also heartbreak. I went to school in Mumbai with Sunil Gavaskar and back in 1990 he saw India as a cricketing babe which was both a little parcel of joy but also despair. Now, as we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century, Indian cricket is a strapping man whose ability to generate money makes it the most powerful economic force in world cricket. Indian cricketers are finally beginning to punch their weight on the field of play. I am writing this, just days after India have won a series in Australia for the first time, having first toured the country just a few months after I was born in 1947. They are not yet supreme, but they can no longer be brushed aside as they were through much of my childhood.
As a child I would often come back to our flat at Flora Fountain in the centre of Mumbai having seen my heroes fail and I would practise in front of my father’s wardrobe hoping I could avenge the defeats. I was never good enough to do so; I never even made it to my school team. But when I was watching a 12-year-old Gavaskar practise batting at school, my teacher told me he would play for India one day. In the years since I first started writing on Indian cricket in the 1970s the literature on it has grown enormously with much made of how cricket was a religion in India. This book is a distillation of what has been a lifetime’s obsession and is based on many hours of interviews and studies of material on what is now, along with Bollywood, also a great interest of mine, one of India’s most potent weapons of soft power. I am writing just as India has completed a tour of England, providing some of the most compelling cricket ever seen. To have witnessed the fervour of Indian fans in the land of its former conquerors is to see how far Indian cricket has come in the last half century. Nobody on the balcony of Ella mashi’s flat back in 1951 could have imagined that.
Extracted with permission from ‘The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of Indian Cricket’, written by Mihir Bose, published by Aleph Book Company