There’s a certain joy in reading fan remembrances of sporting heroes, given the almost lyrical, ode-like admiration that separates such accounts from journalistic analyses or opinion pieces.
In his new book, My Cricket Hero: XII Indians On Their XII Favourite Cricketers, (Rupa, ₹195), sports journalist and memorabilia collector Gulu Ezekiel compiles and edits 12 essays from as many Indian writers across various fields—law, medicine, literature, media, cinema—on their favourite cricket players.
Also read: The mental health of Indian athletes
Ezekiel, who has previously written books on players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and M.S. Dhoni, says the theme was inspired by a regular column in the monthly English cricket magazine The Cricketer and the 1984 book Cricket Heroes. The idea was to get Indian writers with some sort of connection to cricket but from a wide range of professions.
So, for example, you have poet Keki N. Daruwalla writing on Polly Umrigar, a dominant face in the 1940s-60s; communications professional and columnist Hemant Kenkre on his cousin Sunil Gavaskar; and TV journalist Rajdeep Sardesai recalling his father Dilip Sardesai’s cricketing journey. Ezekiel and journalist Suresh Menon are the only full-time sports writers in the list of 12.
In these deeply personal essays, which also have a fine mix of statistics, records, tournaments and other milestones, the writers describe their choice of cricket heroes. For Daruwalla, Umrigar was head and shoulders above the rest because of his unique stature as “a big scorer and gentleman”. For retired research virologist and biographer Kersi Meher-Homji, Vijay Hazare was an all-time Indian great not just because of his technique but because of his knack for rescuing the team in crises.
There are countless anecdotes and little-known facts about these “cricket heroes” in the essays. You learn, for instance, that a tailor in a Margao market in Goa was Dilip Sardesai’s “first window” to the game. As his son recalls, it was Narayan “Master” who showed Dilip paper clippings of Indian Test cricketers Vijay Merchant and Hazare, and gave him his first cricket bat.
While such accounts hold this small book together remarkably, it falls short in its visual appeal. There are very few photographs to bring alive the people and moments remembered here; and the resolution of some of the images is poor. Good archival images would have elevated the book further.
Also read: Why India needs to give young cricketers a chance in Tests