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‘Wisden India Almanack 2019 & 2020’ review: A mirror to cricket


Feb. 15, 2020

Mature insights and fresh perspectives on the World Cup and other games of 2019
The Wisden India Almanack is more than a heavy book spread over 954 pages and featuring a cover patented with its blue shade unlike the mother brand in England, warmly referred to as the yellow brick considering its colour pattern. It is a tome that offers an affectionate look at the previous season and by delaying the latest edition, seventh to be precise, its editor Suresh Menon has managed to capture both the World Cup and the Indian Premier League.
The prose, as is the case with previous versions, sticks to elegance, nostalgia and an affectionate nod to the willow game. The gaze is both specific to India while also casting a bird’s eye view across the cricketing globe. The writers range from veterans like Ayaz Memon, R. Kaushik, Sandeep Dwivedi and Gideon Haigh to the latest torch-bearers of marrying the right word with the exact shot — Bharat Sundaresan and Sidharth Monga. Yet, it isn’t exactly a cosy boys club steeped in cricket writing and Menon draws in fresh voices be it a Rajdeep Sardesai, Shishir Hattangadi or Unmukt Chand.
‘Wristy grace’
As starters go there is a Mike Brearley piece high on spice as he wryly points out India’s reflexive opposition to change and the subsequent belated embrace be it Twenty20s or Decision Review System. Smriti Mandhana, Jasprit Bumrah, Mayank Agarwal, Fakhar Zaman, Dimuth Karunaratne and Rashid Khan, named Cricketers of the Year, get quaint tributes enriched with insights. And entering the Hall of Fame are Lala Amarnath and Gundappa Viswanath, and about the latter Menon writes: “All wristy grace and mischief, eastern magic and unattainability.”
The World Cup’s nerve busting final that ended in multiple ties before a quirky rule about number of boundaries serving as a tie-breaker at Lord’s, gets its retrospective praise from Lawrence Booth. While referring to champion England and second-placed New Zealand, he pens: “To the victors, the spoils. And, for once, to the losers too.”
Baring of the heart
The book is also about the baring of the heart and in this Unmukt scores big. Once toasted as the next big star, the former India under-19 captain lost his form, slipped into self-pity and then hauled himself up for the good fight.
Towards the end of his candid article, you can actually hear him whisper these words: “You chose this bat and ball and you chose it for a reason. Close your eyes and remember the first time you held it. It was simple then, and it should be simple now.”
And there is pathos too. Sidhanta Patnaik, an editor with the almanack since its inception, passed away into the mists of time, succumbing to cancer. His colleague and co-author of the book on Indian women’s cricket The Fire Burns Blue , Karunya Keshav wistfully remembers him: “As a writer, Patnaik was prolific and emotive. As a reporter, he was dogged and a trove of stats and abstruse facts.” The almanack serves as a fair mirror to cricket and you cannot ask for more from a book.
Wisden India Almanack 2019 & 2020; Edited by Suresh Menon, Bloomsbury, ₹699.
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