Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Review: John Wright's Indian Summers

After a cliche fest consisting of boring biographies on Sachin, Rahul, Ganguly and Sehwag, which were no more than a trivial narration of known events and newspaper articles pieced together, comes a very interesting book on the plumbings and inner-workings of Indian cricket. John Wright is an excellent writer and pens together a wonderful recollection of his stay with the Indian team. He is endowed with an excellent sense of humor and uses it very effectively throughout the book. In a short time he takes you through the essence of his heart, mind and ambition. You are left in no doubt about the sincerity of his purpose and equanimity of his retrospection. Looking back, the Indian news channels reconfirmed their stupidity in their review of the book. They conveniently picked the least important, least interesting part of the book - namely Wright's assessment of Ganguly's captaincy and projected just that. This book is worth lot more than a silly gossip. John Wright seems to have this K.Balachander like tendency of leaving many things unsaid. The most interesting aspect about this book was the way he'd abruptly end a narrative or a sentence. It is really not that subtle but provides the 'what he left unsaid' feeling in the mind of the reader. Unless you work for a network news channel you would be intelligent enough to understand what he tries hard not to say. There are some really interesting issues that he points out, which I feel have been neglected by main stream reviewers.

Zero Professionalism: We've just heard of the term professionalism being used in the media before, but we don't really know what it translates to in reality. Wright describes that part. It starts with Wright's description of the cricket kits/practice equipment that he inherited -"3 baseball mitts, 30 cones and three old and crooked blue plastic stumps". This is the support equipment for an international team. "No drink bottles, no sports drinks, no electrotheraphy unit, no heart rate monitors" - Wright laments. He had to personally request for players clothing and even mentions an instance where due to non-availability, players had to wear morning's sessions clothes in the afternoon. Even more appalling is his description of practice sessions, when he took over. Professional players taping their fingers for fielding practice is shocking. Wright's description of net practice, where players who weren't bowling or batting, lounged about in plastic chairs and were served tea and biscuits, is really funny. But he deals with it - "The cane chairs went the next day. Tea soon followed. The players weren't bothered. The resistance came from people who lavished this care and attention on their beloved team. It took a while for word to get around that the new foreign coach didn't believe in tea and biscuits at practice. He didn't believe in taping fingers either. If you do enough catching practice hands and fingers eventually harden up."

Team Managers: Even more funny is his review of team managers. This comes under professionalism but this topic is ridiculous enough to merit a separate paragraph. The segment where a trucking business guy becomes the team manager was hilarious. Wright and Leipus had to explain the process of ticket booking, travel agents to him. Sometimes Wright had no Team Manager and he says "I was also the team manager by default, because the BCCI hadn't appointed one for that series. I relied heavily on Babu Meman for information such as flight times". One manager was so bored of all the cricket talk that happened in team meetings that he got up in the middle of a meeting and started distributing complimentary tickets. Another one, Colonel Sharma, insisted that he was a Yoga expert and literally jumped in and hijacked a morning-of-the-match practice session by forcing players to do yoga. There have also been managers who "handed out meal allowance money in the dark so that it was hard to count", "who nicked players official T-Shirts" and "another who managed to lose the entire party's meal allowance money for last two days". It is evident that the perks of being a manager involves looting allowance money and depriving players of their comforts. Wright says at one point "the iron law of liaison men was that the smarter they dressed, the more useless they were." All-in-all it seems like Wright is describing a Kuppusami Colony cricket team set-up and not a team that has a backing of a large institution. Apparently no money flows back into the team. The BCCI even asks the team's computer analyst to book an economy class room and take care of his charges himself. In one instance Wright terms BCCI's curmudgeon like treatment of Ramki "demeaning". He aptly sums up by saying "BCCI's office in Mumbai, perhaps the greatest feat of camouflage since the wolf put on sheep's clothing".

Zero Privacy: This is somewhere between hilarious and sad. Wright says "I would embark on what would be a never-ending, and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to protect the team space." "In blink of an eye our changing room or viewing area would take an appearance of a cafe renowned as a celebrity hang-out and a place to be seen, a magnet for wannabes." "I'd arrive at the ground to find that our viewing area had been invaded by well-connected spectators, usually related to high ranking government or cricket officials". This is my opinion should include most of the dorks who proudly display the dressing room photographs they took with cricketers. But the extent to which this has been a problem is shocking - " There were times when the team was forced out of their viewing area to make room for the state's chief minister and his entourage; even the padded up batsman Rahul Dravid had to shift." John Wright describes two particular anecdotes where he lost his temper and demanded that the person/celebrity in the dressing room leave immediately. One person was Vijay Malya ("a guy with the biggest diamond ear-stud I'd ever seen wandered into the viewing area...I went nuts demanding to know who the hell he was and, more to the point, who the hell he thought he was"). The second person whom John Wright fought with was Niranjan Shah.

Relationship with Selectors and Players: While John Wrights assessment of the well-known selector's regional bias has been played up by the media, his subtle assessment of his relationship with players has been neglected. Yes! he does talk about the bleeding obvious fact that in 2005 Ganguly had to go - at least from captaincy. But he says more. In the world cup 2003, he un-subtly blames Ganguly, Dravid and Sachin for violating their tour strategy (Bat first in day/night and bowl first in day games) and electing to bowl first in the final. It is one of my pet peeves. To me, we lost the moment Ganguly elected to bowl. Even if we replayed the same game over and over again as a best of 11 finals, we would not have won a WC final, against that Australian team, chasing. He says "Needless to say, if I had my time over again, I'd argue in favor of batting first till I was blue in the face." In my opinion Sachin should never be forgiven for failing during two important occasions (a) The 3rd test against Aus in Melbourne and (b) The 3rd test against RSA in 2007. John Wright mentions the first one as a failure. He also says that Sachin's tactics during his 241 in Sydney was a result of a talk they had and recollects the letter Anjali Tendulkar sent to thank Wright for the timely advise. The person who seems to top Wright's assessment is of course Dravid, who in Wright's eyes seems to be a ruthless, steely-eyed, cold competitor who is not bothered by trivial emotions and can 'step back and put things in perspective'. Wright's assessment of Ganguly is not positive all the time - though he does have some positive things to say about Ganguly. Apart from commenting on Ganguly's lack of punctuality, and tactical acumen, Wright on a few occasions narrates his frustration when Ganguly says one thing in the dressing room and does the complete opposite on the field. At one point during his narration on Bruce Reid's tactical contribution during the 2003/04 Australian tour "after one such presentation, he sat there open mouthed as Ganguly proceeded to do the exact opposite of what had been recommended". His breakdown in relationship with Laxman and Yuvraj is sad. His assessment that Laxman can only find a place in the ODI team if he bats in the top 3 - is a correct one. The selectors decision to drop Laxman for the same reason is a reasonable call. But its hardly Wright's fault. The amount of effort he puts to repair damaged relationships with Laxman and Yuvraj is heart-warming. There are some heart-warming anecdotes too - Wright's father walks in when Ganguly and Wright are embroiled in an argument, Ganguly displays what Wright calls "impeccable manners" by switching modes and showing the Indian brand of respect.

This book is so interesting that It hard for me to do a review in 1 post. So,

To be Continued...

7 comments:

Vee Cee said...

totally khool! keep em coming.

Venkat said...

gotta hand it to you man, you've got this ability to influence...

your review made me watch Chennai 600028 and I am currently in the midst of deciding what to read ( or buy next ) and you've help me make my mind again..

Anonymous said...

equanimity of retrospection eh?

Victor Guerra said...

Hawkeye,

Please dont write elaborate and good reviews. These darned reviews are tempting me to buy books and watch movies forcibly, failing which I would be haunted by insomnia. Show some mercy!

Ram said...

I am buying WRIGHT now!

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

I'm really eager to buy the book now! Will be waiting for the next part!

Hawkeye said...

vee cee,

thanks.

venkat,

:-) please write a review. then we'll get into a interesting discussion.

anon,

etho arva kolar enakku. sigh...

victor,

:-) thanks. am reading 'out of my comfort zone'. so finish of indian summers soon. these books are interesting.

ram,

last time i checked - no availability in amazon.

sudipta,

thanks. next part posted.