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September 4, 2011

Notes on Chetan Narula's 'Skipper' - A definitive account of India's Greatest Captains

This book review has been published in association with Rupa Publications and Bookrack.

Author: Chetan Narula
Publisher: Rupa Publications

When it comes to cricket, the billions living in this county all stand united. They may have strong opinions about some player’s performance, varying opinions and heated arguments about the game-but in the end, all that matters is an Indian win. The sheer numbers that follow cricket in India also highlight the amount of pressure on the player who leads the team onto the field. No wonder it is often said that the Indian cricket captain’s job is probably the most important profile after that of the prime minister himself!

Through careful thought, in-depth research and detailed discussions, this book discusses ten captains in detail, as cricketers and captains, describing the various tours they played on, their wins and losses, selectors they had to contend with, superstars in their team, their personal battles and downfall, et al, while the rest have also been keenly talked about. There is also a special thought on current skipper MS Dhoni to foresee which direction Indian cricket may take. All this, presented in a manner different from any other cricket book yet.

Foreword by Australian author, commentator and former cricketer Peter Roebouck, Skipper pan out the career sketches of 10 most successful and charismatic Indian cricket captains. Chetan Narula, who has worked with leading cricketing websites and magazines take this opportunity to delve into the psyche of persons who has led a cricket-mad nation over the past 5 decades.

My most basic problem here is that at the end of 700 odd pages, it is difficult to fathom whom this book is aimed at. The casual cricket fan will miss most of the real-match references, unable to connect to any of the in-jokes and will feel anguished over the sheer length of various chapters. The more informed fans (like me!) will find most of the references either out-dated or repetitve having watched and read about cricket day-in-and-day-out over past 20 years.

My conclusion has nothing to do with the quality of writing, but the fact that here the target audience seems misplaced, resulting in spoon-feeding with match details which could have been avoided or at least shortened. Each chapter stays on for too long, stretching the book to unmanageable proportions. And as it most often happens, it will become a coffee table book rather than a book which could have piqued or rekindled your interest in the game.

But this should not take away anything from the research and skills put in the book. There are compelling arguments by author to justify the choice of selection of captains. Each of the captain's tenure is validated not only by facts and figures but by intelligent, deep interpretation of magic cricketing moments. All this is provided with an emotional quotient of an Indian fan who has always embraced this game of cricket and treated the players as demi-gods.

Some of my most favourite anecdotes from the book are as follows (Interestingly, you will realise how all of them have happened in India-Australia Test matches!!):
  • How Sachin and Dravid, otherwise gentleman cricketers irked Steve Waugh constantly during 2001 Aus-India test series by constantly asking, "Hey Steve, how is the final frontier looking?"
  • How Sunil Gavaskar got infuriated during 1981 series after being taunted by Dennis Lillee and asked Chetan Chauhan to walk away to the pavilion.
  • The famous, yet hidden stories of the infamous 2008 Monkey-Gate Syndey test and Anil Kumble's typical gentleman defiance in handling the proceedings.
  • The thrilling 1987 Tied test against Australia in Chennai, the emotions of Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh, latter of which was the last man to be out in the Indian innings.
There are many more such instances to be savoured in this book. It is not a one-day read, but will keep you hooked till you are patient with it. Cricket fans will definitely gain something from this bold and telling account of Indian cricket over last 50 years.

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