Book: The Great Tamasha
Author: James Astill
There have been many books written on the history of Indian cricket. The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India by English business journalist James Astill is the latest one that chronicles the different facets of Indian cricket history, from the pre-Independence days to the most modern format of the game, the T20 and Indian Premier League. He has also touched upon the latest spot-fixing case involving S Sreesanth and Co. The book was printed before the BCCI pronounced its ban on Sreesanth and three others.
Astill has kept his story simple. The focus is on the great game, one that is treated like a religion in India and whose players are worshipped like gods. He narrates different incidentslike how the nation comes to a standstill when India plays Pakistan. He hits the high notes when describing some crucial matches witnessed from the press box, from the general stands, and the VIP enclosures, and also some from the homes of common cricket-crazy fans.
Astill, in nine chapters spread across 268 pages, takes one through the early days of Indian cricket, the formation of various clubs under the British Raj in Bombay (now Mumbai), some of which are still in existence, the popular Triangular, Quadrangular and Pentangular tournaments in the first half of the 20th century and players like CK Nayudu and other unsung heroes like the chamars (untouchables) who played in these tournaments.
What makes the book interesting is that Astill has done extensive research on the game, visiting every part of India in search of untold cricket stories, living with villagers in some of the remotest parts of India and experiencing the game with them. There are interviews with Madhav Mantri the oldest living Test cricketer in India, Vasant Raiji a nonagenarian cricket historian and the author of several books on Indian cricket, that help shed light on cricket during the British rule.
He has also touched upon the political history coinciding with Indian cricket and how one influenced the other. Among the other notable personalities he has interviewed include the late Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (Jr), Lalit Modi, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, the Australians on their love for IPL. Astill travelled to some of the smaller towns from where the real big heroes of Indian cricket are emerging. There is Arvind Pujara in Rajkot who speaks about the rise of his son Cheteshwar. “My son had the worst facilities in India, but the best record in India,” he says.
Astill is a business reporter, having lived in New Delhi as South Asia bureau chief of The Economist between 2007 and 2010. He is no novice when it comes to the game having played at the school and university levels.The business background shows in the different supporting figures Astill has given with his stories. He has devoted pages to the IPL and the rise and fall of Lalit Modi.
"India is in so many ways an inspiring example to the world: with its liberal traditions, democracy and the ingenuity of its fiercely competitive people. But it can also be, as the world is starting to find, an awkward partner: self-absorbed, often corrupt and overly anxious to be no one's fool. India is becoming powerful; it will be a long time before it forgets how it felt to be weak," writes Astill.
The Great Tamasha is a handy collection for anyone interested in Indian cricket.