The Roar fathers a new and fascinating book on cricket

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By , Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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18 Have your say

    The Roar was started as a website back in 2007 to give a voice to the thousands of people who did not have a voice in expressing their views, opinions and experiences of the issues and events taking place on and off the sporting fields.

    The name of the site, The Roar, was intended to express the roar of the crowd, as opposed to the curated roar from the mainstream media which rarely involved supporters of teams and lovers of sports in their articles and videos.

    Within ten years The Roar has become a powerhouse for generating copy and videos on all matters sporting.

    Each week about 90,000 words are generated on The Roar, a sort of sporting equivalent to the words tally in War and Peace.

    These words represent the views, experiences and opinions of many writers who, before The Roar came into existence, never had a chance to publish anything they had on their minds.

    Among this cohort of new voices on The Roar is Anindya Dutta, a businessman who lives in Singapore, who has recently published his first book, “A Gentleman’s Game: Reflections on Cricket History”.

    The book comprises 15 essays and an appendix of scoreboards relating to some of the events described in these essays.

    The essays range from a fascinating exposure of the curious life of the great Ranji (K.S. Ranjitsinhji: The Maharaja of Eloquence), to size and batting ability (Have fat, can bat), two intriguing first-Test bowling performances (A tale of two debuts: The Banerjee-Warne story), essays on Keith Miller and his war experiences, a fabulous declaration by Don Bradman, and a comparison between the “two greatest wicket-keepers”, Godfrey Evans and Don Tallon.

    All these essays and the others are full of information and insights that will appeal to lovers of the ‘gentleman’s game’. I pride myself, for instance, to have read virtually all the important cricket books published in the past 40 years or so. But there are many stories and details in Anindya’s essays that intrigued me, that I found fascinating and explained matters I had wondered about in previous readings.

    I found myself, as I read through the essays, underlining many paragraphs as a reminder of their import. So many paragraphs were subjected to this underlining that sometimes entire pages seemed to have been given the highlighter treatment.

    Take, for instance, the first essay in the collection: “K.S. Ranjisinhji: The Maharaja of Elegance – and of Nawanagar”.

    The essay is a tour de force. It starts with a quote from Ranji, still valid today, about the best way to bat: “Find out where the ball is, get there: hit it.”

    This quote is followed by two photos of Ranji.

    The first shows him making a leg glance. In the text, the author points out that Ranji was the batsman who brought leg-side shots into the batting method:

    “Ranji, single-handedly, pioneered the leg-side game. Over three glorious days of an English summer in 1896, at Old Trafford, Ranji scored 62 and 154, with a majority of his runs coming on the leg-side, through a stroke that would quaintly be named ‘the glance’.”

    A Gentleman's Game, by Anindya Dutta.

    These two masterpiece innings were created in Ranji’s first Test.

    There was significant opposition to Ranji being selected for further Tests, especially for those in Australia, because of the feelings among cricket officials, including Lord Harris, that “if England could not win without resorting to the assistance of coloured individuals of Asiaticextraction it had better devote its skills to marbles”.

    There were also calls for Ranji’s supporters to be expelled from the MCC for “having the disgusting degeneracy to praise a dirty black”.

    So Ranji’s Test career spanned only six years and 15 Tests, all played against Australia, scoring almost 1000 runs at an average of 44.95 with two centuries and six fifties.

    The author does not go into this record in great detail but, in my view, this average compared with those of great batsmen in the era of uncovered pitches would convert to something near enough to 60 in modern times.

    The second photo shows Ranji dressed as a Jam Sahib, the title given to the ruling prince of Nawanagar.

    These two themes, Ranji the great, innovating batsman of his day, and Ranji the erstwhile, probably pretend Indian prince, are played throughout the essay rather like a great batsman exploring different ways to dispatch the ball to the boundary.

    The story of Ranji struggling to establish his credentials as Prince Ranjitsinhji, a title he had no rights to, is a fascinating tale that involves Indian princely politics and intrigues not usually related to him by his adoring admirers like English cricket writer Neville Cardus.

    The essay ends on a mysterious note: “Ranji would eventually become the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar when Jassaji (his rival and real heir) died of a mysterious illness for which no aspersions were cast on possible beneficiaries, although certain questions were raised.”

    I would like Anindya Dutta to pursue this lead and find out how valid the “certain questions” were.

    In his introduction, the author describes how he came to write on The Roar: “A couple of years ago, after several heated exchanges with fellow group members, I decided to write an opinion piece on cricket on an issue I felt strongly about … I sent it off to an Australian website The Roar where a fellow crazy, Ritesh Misra, had just published an article.

    “The next morning to my surprise, The Roar had carried the article. What was most gratifying was the response from readers on The Roar…”

    One of those responding was Kersi Meher-Homji, described by Anindya Dutta as “one of the world’s great cricket historians and the author of 14 books on cricket”.

    Kersi was also one of the first people on The Roar. His writings gave the site a respectability, a place where good argument could be expressed in a way that provided light rather than heat on the issue under discussion.

    Kersi has provided a foreword where he praises Anindya Dutta as “a new name” among the dwindling band of modern cricket writers of note: “I read an article by a new name on The Roar… It was on spell-binding bowling spells in Test cricket by Anindya Dutta and I was impressed. Wow, this is something different as the article combined history, statistics and sheer excitement.”

    I would endorse this judgment from Kersi. This is a cricket book full of great delights by an enthusiast who has an eye, like a master batsman, to make telling strokes to push his stories along.

    Writing a book, to my mind, is the equivalent in cricket of making a century. Anindya Dutta’s century, to continue this analogy, has been made in the first-class arena. Well played!

    The Kindle Ebook is available on Amazon Australia for A$4.49. The paperback is available on Amazon US at $US5.99 and Amazon UK at £4.99.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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