Cricket has thrived on controversies. From Bodyline in 1932-33 to the ‘Mankading’ incident involving R. Ashwin in the 2019 Indian Premier League, some of these are the subject of the book Courage, Conviction, Controversy and Cricket. Cricket writer Vedam Jaishankar takes us on a comprehensive and insightful journey that brings alive some of the most acrimonious incidents from the world of cricket.
The project involved research that took almost two years of him talking to more than 100 people connected with the game, and reading through close to 100 newspapers, magazines, and books. “There were more than 250 incidents to choose from, right from the time of [Australian cricketer] Don Bradman to the current era of Virat Kohli,” says Jaishankar. The 250 was brought down to 100, then 80, and finally the 40 odd that are featured,” he says of the book that was written during the coronavirus lockdown, with a foreword by current India coach Ravi Shastri.
So incidents like the rebel tours — where West Indian cricketers played in an Apartheid ridden South Africa — are mentioned in passing. “In my opinion the hype of the rebel tours was an England media creation to create some buzz during their off season. It had little impact on world cricket.”
He evaluated each incident based not just on the number of people involved, but also on the context, and impact. “When you dig into the evolution of the game you realise that what was once deemed to be a controversy, often led to changes in the laws of the game or its format or the protocol followed. Whenever these happened it seemed that controversies were actually good props for the development of the game,” he says.
He cites the example of Bodyline (a tactic where the ball was bowled at the body of the batsman) that led to change in laws regarding the number of fielders who could be deployed behind the popping crease on the leg side. “Similarly, the contentious Kerry Packer series in Australia was a bigger controversy (he introduced coloured clothing and day-night matches). It impacted the whole cricketing world but later led to sweeping changes in the ODI format. So many good aspects of the game came out of it, actually.”
Some compelling chapters involve West Indian fast bowler Roy Gilchrist sent home in 1958-59 for insubordination; the Indian opening batsman NS Sidhu’s walkout in 1996 over differences with the captain; the Sourav Ganguly-Greg Chappell spat in 2005-06 around the Australian coach telling the Indian captain to quit; and the Vaseline Affair in 1977 when England fast bowler John Lever used the substance of the ball.
The controversy that stayed with the author was the match fixing chapter. “I’ve dwelt on this to some extent. However, I must confess that in my mind cricketers who were part of the team and were aware of what was happening, yet chose to stay silent, are as guilty as the ones who sold their souls,” he says.
The purpose of the book is not to be a sensational or dwell on the lows of the game. The ideas was to bring out values like team work, perseverance, and loyalty that are driven by coaches, administrators, and players, along with honesty, respect, and fairplay that build strong moral character.
“I’ll just give you two examples. There are more in the book. These strong moral values associated with skipper GR Viswanath made the recall of Bob Taylor during the Golden Jubilee Test acceptable to Indian fans and players. India probably lost because of that decision but nobody grudged Viswanath his value-based judgement,” he says.
The second instance is of Rahul Dravid declaring India’s innings in Pakistan with Sachin Tendulkar batting on 194. “Had Dravid’s personal integrity been suspect there would have been motives attached to the declaration. But his impeccable integrity and sense of fairplay saw him through a challenging moment in his captaincy and life. This time India won a Test in Pakistan for the first time in 50 years and his approach was vindicated even to his staunchest critic.”
Each chapter exists on its own, so the reader can start at the first or the 40th.
Courage, Conviction, Controversy and Cricket; Westland Sport; available in bookstores and on Amazon.in; ₹699