A small intro on his new book’s cover tells us that Mukul Kesavan teaches history, blogs and writes fiction when he can and, from the way he signed my copy of Men in White, he has a doctor’s handwriting. Everything in the book apart from the intro provides clinching evidence to the fact that he is a cricket nut of the highest order.
Men in White is a collection of individual essays written and published at some point, primarily in The Telegraph and Cricinfo. From his beloved radio and his gully cricket, to the press box at Lord’s and everything in-between makes this book and maybe, were he to write an autobiography, there wouldn’t be much to add.
This is Mukul Kesavan’s personal anthology; nostalgic, opinionative and humourous. The humourous pieces (like the one on the Super Tests or those on radio commentary) are delightful. When he presents his opinion on the ICC and the game itself or the hows and whys of its popularity in India, he still is in good form (“Why do you need a match referee?”), but the edge he won with his memories is lost to the prosaic. Luckily, there aren’t too many of those and soon enough, he sidles along with heroes of his childhood, the West Indies, as they waltz past one and all, he pumps his chest with pride for a one-eyed captain, learns to believe with Gavaskar in ’71, swoons over the majesty of Vishy’s “that innings” 97, falls for a young Azhar’s artistry and grimaces with sadness at the later Azhar of the 90s and is variously elevated and tormented by cricket commentators.
Men in White is an enjoyable book, quite simply a tribute to Kesavan’s own memories and in some ways to all followers of the sport in India who wouldn’t need an alarm to wake them up at 5:30 on the 26th of December. To nitpick though is an indulging trait and one wishes the cover had a better photograph and a touch more care would have informed that Bangalore’s cricket stadium is named after Chinnaswamy and not Chidambaram.
Where the book succeeds is in prompting readers to look back. Kesavan’s Philips radio had six keys, one of them airing Test Match Special. Our TV in ‘96 had around as many channels, one of them we hoped, was Prime Sports (or had it become Star Sports by then?). If it was Gavaskar then, we followed Rahul Dravid’s career through England. A clamber for the newspaper in the morning would tell as to how the Bangalore boy had done. A single-digit dismissal was shattering while a 16 not out in a county game reassured. ESPN had “hijacked” the tour for us and the news on radio and TV, like wild animals, would venture only in the dark. Still, when Dravid followed Ganguly’s century with his 95 and walked, we were satisfied. At long last, there was a batting hero from our backyard.
Now, ESPN and Star Sports have given way to Star Cricket. India are playing Sussex at Hove, Live, Ball-by-ball, and Dravid’s on his final Test tour of England.