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By The Fake IPL Player
(Harper Collins Publishers India, 400 pages, Rs. 199 (not sold in USA))
Book Review By Gulu Ezekiel
When the Indian Premier League was forced to move to South Africa for its second season in 2009, it was the anonymous blog run by ‘Fake IPL Player’ (FIP) that grabbed nearly as many eyeballs as the cricket circus itself.
FIP’s identity remains unknown a year later and the blog has been discontinued. But the attention it garnered was enough to bag the blogger a contract to write a novel based on what in the book he appropriately dubs the IBL (Indian Bollywood League).
Being a staunch critic from the start of this business venture masquerading as cricket, I have to admit to being delighted with the gossip that FIP provided in his blog last year.
Claiming to be an insider with the Kolkata Knight Riders, the franchise owned by Shah Rukh Khan that finished dead last, there was plenty of masala dished out on the team, its owner, players and the controversial Australian coach (since sacked) plus other major players in South Africa.
But converting a blog into a novel has proved a bridge too far for the author for whom I am assuming (since I am unaware of his identity) this is his maiden venture into fiction.
The novel is broken into various narratives: that of FIP himself; the captain of the national team and of the ‘Bangalore Bangers’ (here named ‘Rocky’ from a small town but you can guess his identity) and private detective Parminder Mahipal Singh (‘PMS’) who is appointed by the IBL commissioner (‘Lalu Parekh’) to unmask FIP.
In between we are exposed to the ego trips and machinations behind the scenes that go into the working styles of the Kolkata team, Parekh and Bangalore Bangers’ owner ‘Raj Singhania’ (guess who?).
Here fact and fiction are hard to separate and it these passages that make for gripping reading and disturbing too for any genuine cricket lover assuming there is even a grain of truth to them.
But the constant switching back and forth in the narratives makes for disjointed reading and this is where a guiding hand was needed.
In the novel the IBL in its second season is being staged in England and whereas the blog hid the identities (in a thinly veiled manner) of the main characters by using sometimes obscene nicknames, here FIP gives them ‘real’ names.
So the pride of Bengal and former national captain (named ‘Lordie’ in the blog) is now Gautam Sarkar, whereas the coach (‘Bhooka Naan’ in the blog) is Jeff Buccaneer and the owner of KKR or ‘Calcutta Cavalry’ in the novel is given the name of Siegwald Raees Kahn (SRK, get it?)—half German, half Afghan we are told!
The story revolves round the ruthlessly egoistic and power-hungry Parekh and his plot to stage a coup against the International Cricket Council and take over the world of cricket.
That in itself is not beyond the realms of possibility in the real world too and FIP’s ‘revelation’ about Parekh planning to make his move in 2011 has an ominous ring to it for reasons explained in the novel which are factual too.
But this plot line tends to be gripping till about halfway through the novel. It cannot be sustained and the predictable manner the book takes after that has all the trappings of a Bollywood movie, particularly the maudlin climax.
Still, to give the author his due, he has the ability both in his blog last year and in this novel to see below the artificiality of the league and the ringmaster who is running the circus. And when it comes to Indian cricket, FIP certainly has his heart in the right place.
What is uncanny is that since the book was published, the whole IPL scandal has opened a can of worms. And FIP talked of much of this dirt both in his blog last year and in this novel.
No wonder he is now gloating ‘I told you so’ in the media!