Long before a six became a maximum DLF or a strike became a Karbonn Kamaal strike, and following cricket essentially meant watching it live on television, the most romantic of all sports reached its lovers primarily through radio. Almost four decades later, the voice of Christopher Martin-Jenkins is still loud and clear in the ear, as the gifted commentator describes the final moments of the cricketing final of the 1983 Cricket World Cup. one of the biggest upsets in sporting history, he told the BBC World Service cricket special, when Mohinder Amarnath framed Michael Holding LBW. It certainly was.
For the world’s second most populous nation that had been starved for sporting glories on the world stage, the stunning triumph at Lord’s – India was the rank underdog in the tournament the West Indies were set to win for the third straight time – was an occasion to celebrate. It undoubtedly remains one of the turning points in Indian sports history. At a time when India is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its independence, looking back on its sporting exploits is not a bad idea. This is what Chandresh Narayanan tried to do in his book, Journey of a Nation: 75 Years of Indian Sports – Game, Guts, Glory.
The book is a record – you would even get the score by which Pullela Gopichand beat Ronald Susilo in the first round of the All-England Open Badminton Championships in 2001 – of India’s notable victories in the sport. All major popular sports are covered. Unsurprisingly, cricket took up a lot of pages, compared to other sports. Despite all the successes in other sports, especially in recent years, cricket remains India’s favorite obsession. It is also very well documented, through books, newspapers and the Internet.
Rewind the glories of cricket
Yet when you go through this book, you look back on some of the greatest moments of Indian cricket, like the two World Cups (1983 and 2011), the 1985 Cricket World Championship in Australia, the 2007 World T20 and the Tied Test of 1986 with Australia in Chennai. Sachin Tendulkar’s famous two hundred consecutive ODIs against Australia in Sharjah in 1998 were also talked about at length.
These rounds of Tendulkar, the drama of the Chennai Test and Sunil Gavaskar’s men Down Under’s nearly flawless 1985 campaign to win the WCC, might be familiar to most readers, but they might not know how Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi won the billiard world championships. The many laudable exploits of Indian wrestlers, shooters, weightlifters, as well as badminton and tennis players have also been documented. The same goes for the glorious saga of hockey.
Badminton, a truly popular and global sport in which India has made outstanding achievements through outstanding players like Prakash Padukone, Pullela Gopichand, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Lakshya Sen, has been given the space it deserves. India’s triumph at the Thomas Cup in March is undoubtedly one of the greatest feats in the country’s sporting history. There is a chapter on it in the book. There should have been one about India’s incredible 1987 Davis Cup campaign as well.
How India reached the World Cup tennis team final is one of the country’s most compelling stories in sport. Vijay Amritraj Comment – “We don’t have to play in the World Group Final, do we?” – after team-mate Ramesh Krishnan beat Wally Masur, in the final game of the semi-final against defending champions Australia in Sydney, sums up India’s performance. While the book vividly documented the exploits of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, those who served and flew before them, Ramanathan Krishnan, his son Ramesh and the Amritraj brothers, must be properly acknowledged.
Journey of a Nation: 75 Years of Indian Sports Gaming, Guts, Glory
By Chandresh Narayanan
Published: Rupa Publications
Price: ₹405, 318 Pages
The strength of the book is all the same that it is a fairly complete file on several sports. Even India’s famous near-misses – such as fourth place at the Olympics by PT Usha (1984), Milkha Singh (1960), Dipa Karmakar (2016) and Aditi Ashok (2021) – have also been recorded.
The book, a considerable portion of which is sourced from websites and newspapers, gives the reader a reasonable account of India’s sports history. It is hardly more; he would have read better with more analysis. The editing could have been better too.
(Reviewer is Sr Asst Editor Sports, The Hindu, Kozhikode)
August 27, 2022