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Book Review: The Great Tamasha


A game called Grab and Run
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | New Delhi, August 30, 2013 16:36
Tags : The Great Tamasha | Indian cricket | James Astill | IPL |

What do they know of cricket who only cricket know? C.L.R. James’ fabled line written five decades ago in the Preface to his autobiographical book, Beyond a Boundary, could well take on a completely new form and connotation if it were to be extended to the cabal of self-serving ignoramuses that runs the game in India. Who really needs to know anything of cricket to run cricket in this country?

That indeed is the principal burden of journalist James Astill’s meticulously researched, consistently readable and no-holds-barred account of “cricket, corruption and the turbulent rise of modern India”, which incidentally is the strap-line for this book.

Indian cricket has seen many significant points of departure over the decades, stretching all the way from the exploits of C.K. Nayudu to the 1983 surprise World Cup triumph. But nothing has represented a break from the past more markedly, and more violently, than the advent of the slam-bang Indian Premier League (IPL). It has completely altered the landscape and changed the rules of the game, none of it for the better.  

The writer leaves out very little as he delves into the reasons for this nation’s fierce obsession with the gentleman’s game and its obvious consequence: a steady undermining of the values that cricket once stood for.

The Great Tamasha is laced with encounters with an array of characters. On the one hand are the likes of Sharad Pawar, Niranjan Shah and that now much-maligned fugitive, Lalit Modi. On the other are sundry cricket freaks, slum kids, billionaires and princes who have seen better days.

Astill’s focus is primarily on the cash-rich IPL, which, in more ways than one, has mirrored the trajectory that India has followed since the mid 1990s, a desperate hurtle that has only gathered momentum after the turn of the millennium.

While praising India’s democratic fundamentals that have lent the nation stability and a degree of robustness, The Great Tamasha rightly highlights the venality that our politicians are heir to. They are still feudal, avaricious, vindictive and not easily given to sharing the spoils of their vice-like grip over the system, whether it pertains to the arms of governance or simply to the conduct of cricket.

The ills of Indian cricket, the book implies, are no different from the ills that beset the nation as a whole. India has changed beyond recognition over the last two decades, and so has cricket. India has a huge youth population that passionately patronises the game and fuels its growing power as a television sport.

This particular segment of the population, following in the footsteps no doubt of the earlier generation, believes that getting ahead in life by hook or by crook is a birthright, the collective good of the community and the nation be damned.
In fact, they live in the instant, making the most of the opportunities for self aggrandizement that are available to those that have managed to jostle into advantageous social and economic stations.

That, indeed, is exactly how cricket is now run in this country. It is no longer about the game as much as it is about money, power and glitz. The grab and run approach yields results in the short term all right, but does it augur well for the future? Nobody here has the patience or the sensitivity to pause and ask questions.

The presence of Bollywood stars on the sidelines of the Twenty20 tournament that has been throwing up big bucks and drawing the best from around the world since its inception in 2008 completes the picture.        

The involvement of Bollywood personalities in the IPL underscores the fact the cricket, not cinema, is today “the biggest form of entertainment in India”.

In one crucial way, IPL plays by the rules that Bollywood follows. Churn out any load of rubbish that you can go laughing all the way to the bank. And then, when the naysayers get too shrill, you turn around and declare that it is the people who want this, so who the hell are you, Mr Killjoy, to carp. That is exactly the kind of argument that Bollywood has thrived on.

Although he never shies away from calling a spade and spade, Astill is obviously too civil to say what we all know in so many words: India produces the worst movies in the world. Today, it also produces the worst cricket in the world. But, not surprisingly, we celebrate both with the kind of unseemly glee that only exposes our inability to demand better.

Read this book. It places all the euphoria in the right perspective and puts up the warning signs that Indian cricket can no longer turn a blind eye to.


Author: James Astill

Edition: Paperback

ISBN: 978-93-82951-16-2

Pages: 290

Price: Rs. 399

Publisher: Wisden/Bloomsbury India

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017