Mid-wicket Tales: From Trumper To Tendulkar

By S.Giridhar and V.J. Raghunath (245 pages)

SAGE Publications ISBN 978-81-321-1738-4

‘Every Form of Spin – That’s India’, starts the 19th chapter of Mid-wicket Tales, and it appears that the irony of the title might have been lost on the two tragics who have authored the work, S Giridhar and V.J. Raghunath or “I (Giridhar)” and “One of us (Raghunath)” as they soon become known, making it a point to document who is remembering what, and when, in their slightly barmy two-handed essays. For some of the statistics, and the conclusions they draw from them, have been spun in curious ways.

The heading of table 13.1 is a case in point. ‘Enigma: Why Is Australia So Weak in Left-arm Spin?’ is, yes, a table which reveals that not one Australian left arm spinner has taken 100 wickets or more in test matches. Fair enough. But the authors see no correlation between this table about left arm tweakers, and an earlier table (there are far too many of them) which is titled ‘Ranking the Leg Spinners Using an Effectiveness Index Model’. A cursory glance of this shows – using the formula put forward by the authors – that five out of the top eight leggies have been Aussie: Warne, Grimmett, MacGill, Benaud, and O’Reilly. The absence of left arm finger spinners in the Australian ranks is to ignore how successful these wrist spinners have been. Grimmett and Warne were both world record holders for the most number of test wickets at one time, and Benaud held the Australian record until being surpassed by Dennis Lillee.

It also misses the cultural difference in the way cricket is played down under; Aussies like it when spinners give the ball a good rip. While turning the ball the same way as a left arm finger spinner, the leg spinner gets bounce and fizz, and is ideally suited to Australian conditions. It’s also much riskier to bowl, and requires a greater degree of skill. Again, in the chapter on ‘The Chinaman and Mystery Bowler’ (there is a nickname that we’d do well to update in these more enlightened times) the obvious connection between a wealth of one and the lack of another is not made. When it is asked, ‘Why is it that most of the Chinamen bowlers are from Australia?’ the authors have the answer before them: ‘Strangely, Australia hardly has a worthy presence among orthodox left-arm spinners.’

By now the title of chapter nineteen has become clearer. Pointing out the shortcomings of English cricket – no wrist spinners – or Australian cricket – no finger spinners – is just a stop along the way to writing a chapter on how India has them in each category.

Perhaps it’s churlish to suggest that they have done so deliberately; it is more likely that in their amateur enthusiasm for the sport – and their great love of Indian cricket, especially the longer form – the authors have massaged some of their tables into supporting their pre-existing views. They certainly seem blind to some of the faults of the Indian game – the historical lack of genuine fast bowlers, for example, or the continued inability to win consistently abroad.

For a book that aims to cover the period between Trumper and Tendulkar, the baffling absence of Bradman is also quite noticeable. It seems only fitting to try and explain it with statistics. The Don gets a mention on 10 pages – i.e. one more than Vijay Manjrekar, who gets nine, and two less than Arthur Mailey and Salim Durani, both on a dozen – all excellent cricketers, no doubt, but never mentioned in the same sentence as Bradman otherwise. Tendulkar – of course, befitting his status as The Little Master – gets a whopping 23 pages, and a share in the title of the book, along with Victor Trumper, who gets five. I suppose it wouldn’t have bothered Old Vic; his name became a piece of rhyming slang for jumper, bumper, and dumper (a cigarette butt). And the authors needed someone else with a last name that started with T, for alliterative purposes.

Actually, they – “I (Giridhar)” and “One of us (Raghunath)” – needed an editor. Badly.

“One incident remains etched in Giridhar’s memory. It was January 1972 and the second morning of the match between Madras and Mysore at the Central College grounds in Bangalore. 9 a.m. and an hour more for play to begin, I (Giridhar) walk into the ground to chat with Venkat.”

Walking into the ground is the least of the narrator’s problems; he sounds as if he has walked into a wall.

I lost count of the number of times that the word ‘of’ was used instead of ‘off’ – “thumped of the back foot” – and some of the sentences, while meant as genuine praise of the great cricketers they describe, are extravagantly sloppy.

“McGrath, among all fast bowlers we have seen was the most accurate and relentless. He combined the unbridled aggression of a tearaway fast bowler (without being really fast) with an unmatched combination of discipline, tenacity and cunning. That cliché ‘corridor of uncertainty’ outside off stump – the batsman’s ultimate test of judgement – truly belonged to McGrath. He made batsmen play every one of the 29,248 balls he bowled in test cricket.”

Leaving aside the unhinged use of the royal ‘we’, and the dig at McGrath for not being truly fast, take a look at the last sentence. The batsmen had to play every one of the 29,248 balls that he sent down. That is, not one opener shouldered arms to McGrath once during his whole test career, ever.

Too many loose sentences like that have undermined the book, and the confidence we might otherwise have had in the authors’ opinions. It’s a shame. As a resident of Delhi, I share their distaste at the sight of youngsters playing tennis ball games in the park, and making no effort to bowl with a straight arm. Seeing a boy run fast to the crease, then stop and throw the ball, means that a passer-by might slow his stride to watch the outcome of one delivery, but never two.

Patrick Bryson