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Suresh Menon's Book Review: The Troublesome Test Tussle by Kishin Wadhwaney
by Suresh Menon
Sep 21, 2008
Kishin Wadhwaney is not the first name that jumps to mind when cricket writing is discussed. Yet this 80-year-old former sports editor of Indian Express is one of few Indians who can boast of an 'oueuvre'. He has written 18 books on the game, which is more than the combined score of K N Prabhu, N S Ramaswami, Rajan Bala and R Mohan - journalists whose works are largely in newspaper files. Wadhwaney is honest enough to admit that he is no stylist; nor does he project himself as an original thinker. But as a professional he had one quality that placed him above most of his contemporaries - a nose for news. That, and the gift of being in the right place at the right time.

His latest offering - The Troublesome Test Tussle - on India's last tour of Australia, however, shows that even the latter gift is not particularly important. While others ran around collecting quotes from the captains and players, reported ball-by-ball, wrote columns and commentaries, Wadhwaney focused on making sense of it all, and putting the events in a historical perspective. The result is a book that tells us not only what happened, but why it was inevitable that it should happen.

Interestingly, Wadhwaney's books were written - and these are well-produced efforts although they would have profited from better proof-reading - after retirement. He is a typewriter and paper man, sitting in his apartment in Delhi's Press Enclave, and relying on his impressive memory to dredge out long-forgotten facts. But it isn't memory alone. He has maintained clippings on the game for over half a century, and confirmation is always readily at hand.

The mere act of writing is inspiring. As Bishan Bedi says in the foreword to the Australia book, "He lives with a replaced hip, replaced knees and open heart surgeries. We call him the Bionic Man." The Wadhwaneys are a unique family - there is scope for another book here. Wife Asha is a former hockey international; son Rohit has played representative cricket and daughter Sneha was a national swimmer. She is married to former India cricketer Vijay Dahiya. Wadhwaney himself might have had a long career as a cricketer but for an early run-in with Vizzy, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram famous for having more Rolls Royces than runs scored on an England tour.

Although Wadhwaney has written biographies of Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar and more recently on Indian captains, it is in such books as his Indian Cricket and Corruption that he has been at his best. Intrigues and manoueuvres have always existed in Indian cricket, he says, adding, "only, the main actors have changed - from princes to politicians/bureaucrats." An earlier book, Indian Cricket Controversies, has 117 chapters. It is the dark underbelly of Indian cricket exposed.

Wadhwaney has never been politically correct, and that has given his work an edge missing from more subtle writings. In his latest book he says with candour of the Sydney Test, "For the first time in 133 years, a Test match was won by two umpires, Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson."

It is unlikely that you will get a summing up of Ricky Ponting that approaches Wadhwaney's. "As a batsman-fielder, Ponting has been Australia's mainstay post World War II. But his priorities are mixed. He is highly conceited, stubborn and more ruthless than the situation demands. He does not want to see any point of view other than his own". Such intensely personal opinions may cause some readers to cringe, but it might well be what many think but do not express in public.

To continue writing books at 80, to get worked up about the way the game is played, to feel strongly enough about the traditions of the game to record events that must not easily be forgotten - these are admirable qualities in a human being, leave alone a sports writer who has been writing for over half a century. Wadhwaney feels more strongly than most, and does something about it. That alone makes him special. So what if the prose doesn't sing?
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