Book Review: Days Well Spent - A cricketing odyssey

2010 May 31 by DreamCricket

Rajan Bala had a well-deserved reputation for never missing a deadline in 40 years of reporting cricket around the world, no matter what the circumstances.

Days Well Spent—a cricketing odyssey
By Rajan Bala

Pages: 328 (illustrated); price: Rs. 395.
The Marine Sports publishers, Mumbai.

Book Review By Gulu Ezekiel

Rajan Bala had a well-deserved reputation for never missing a deadline in 40 years of reporting cricket around the world, no matter what the circumstances.

It is sadly ironical therefore that his passing away in Bangalore on October 9 last came just a day before his final book was due to be formally released.

There have been other cricket books released after the death of the subject, notably those by England cricketers Tom Cartwright and CS Marriot. But what adds a poignant, even spooky touch to the book under review is that the author knew his death was imminent after being diagnosed with a serious kidney ailment on January 1, 2008.

That he completed the book in just over a year means Rajan in fact beat the toughest deadline of all, the deadline of life and death.

It is not easy to review a posthumous book, particularly when one has been associated with the late author. Rajan was my sports editor in the Madras edition of the then-Indian Express daily for seven years.

The book is not really an autobiography, rather a travelogue with chapters dedicated to each of the Test playing nations as well as one on Bombay cricket, their main challengers on the domestic cricket scene and a prologue and epilogue.

The great Frank Moraes one said he would like his epitaph to read: “He drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney and wrote like an angel.”  That would have brought a throaty chuckle from Bala and indeed in his epilogue—a sort of self-penned obituary-cum-confessional—he admits his lifelong habits took a toll on his health.  For anyone who knew Bala well, the epilogue is really the most fascinating. Here he finally reveals what we guessed all these years, that Rajan was a lifelong Anglophile.

Nothing wrong with that really. Like many from Bala’s generation, there was a feeling of warmth towards the English since they invented the game.  A somewhat more startling disclosure is Bala’s contention that no cricketer can be complete with a University degree. Hence his soft spot for Oxbridge types like Pakistan legend Imran Khan, former England captain Tony Lewis and the Sri Lankan Gamini Goonesena. The posher the English accent the better for Bala!

Shocking though is his antipathy towards the black race which is clearly brought out in his chapters on West Indies and South Africa cricket.
The former is almost totally concerned with pulling out skeletons from the closet of Caribbean cricket history. But to dub the black South African population as “lazy, violent and alcoholic” is deeply disturbing.

Of all the cricket nations he toured, his favourite he readily admits is Sri Lanka, “though born a Tamilian…” Indeed Bala enjoyed cult status among the cricket fraternity in the nation he refers to as “an embittered island in the sun.”

For someone who prided himself on his memory, there are far too many errors in this book. Writing as well as fighting poor health could not have been easy and here he has been let down by those who must have read the manuscript.

Bala states that Tony Greig’s touring team of 1976-77 was the first to win a series in India when in fact Douglas Jardine had achieved that feat on the first tour back in 1933-34. He is also incorrect when he writes that Jatin Paranjpe never played for the country. He appeared in four ODIs.

Also wrong is his statement that Tom Graveney and Brian Statham did not play in India. They did, on England’s 1951-52 tour. There are other errors which are beyond the scope of this review.  The pinnacle of Bala’s professional career was perhaps the historical tour of Pakistan in 1978 by the Bishan Bedi-led Indians. Even after all these years to read of how he scooped the news of Kerry Packer’s approach to some of the Indian players sends a tingle down the spine.   

Coming back to the epilogue, Rajan spills the beans on confidential conversations he has had over the decades with cricketers around the world. These revelations could have repercussions today but Rajan writes the final chapter as if he is convinced he will not be around to face the consequences.

I guess you could say he has had the last laugh after all.