Gideon Haigh, author of one of the Times’ greatest sports books, ‘The Cricket War’ in an exclusive interview with Sumeet Naik opines that much has changed in the game since Sachin retired
In India, cricket is religion. In Australia, cricket is ‘war’. In helmets, under lights, with white balls and in coloured clothes, the outlaw armies of Ian Chappell, Tony Greig and Clive Lloyd fought a daily battle of survival. In boardrooms and courtrooms Kerry Packer and cricket’s rulers fought a bitter war of nerves. On the occasion of World Series Cricket’s 40th anniversary, author Gideon Haigh in his remarkable masterpiece ‘The Cricket War’ explores the end of cricket as we knew it and the beginning of cricket as we know it.
Twenty-five years ago you quit as a reporter from Melbourne’s most reputed broadsheet, the Age; and took up a job as a staff writer in an upstart publication Independent Monthly. Was that a well calculated ‘long drive’ in the early stages of your career?
Heavens no! I was young and impetuous. I’ve never played a long game. I have always just taken the most interesting option on offer (chuckles).
You have been quite vocal about Cricket Australia’s high headedness and their attitude of suppressing players voices. Was revenue sharing the only bone of contention?
It was more about power sharing – that Cricket Australia was keen on unilateral power, whereas I would argue that the game runs better when there are checks on their monopoly.
How do you look at the Sachin Tendulkar phenomena in international cricket? Any other Indian player you see having potential to rise up to his level.
Tendulkar was more than cricket. As Ram Guha has pointed it out, he was something like the first perfect Indian. I’m not sure India still aspires to that level of perfection. They’ve seen it, felt it. There’s no point in doing again what Tendulkar did – quite apart from the fact that the game has changed so much even since his retirement.
In India, cricket is religion. BCCI is the richest cricketing body in the world. Does India have better infrastructure in terms of pitches, grounds and stadiums?
It should; it really should. It has the money and public to be the best in every aspect of the game, and little excuse for falling short.
Twenty20 is being referred to as the Games killer app, India its Candy Mountain. Can you throw light on this?
T20 is quick, fun, telegenic, disposable – perfectly suited to the priorities of the modern mass media.
In the era of packaging, branding and marketing, do you see the spirit of the game lost?
I see the values of capitalism regnant. But I see plenty of love of the game at all levels too.
As a writer you must have encountered several hurdles. Cricketers are hard nut to crack. How did you manage to win their trust?
I am a cricketer (51-year-old all-rounder of sorts). I enjoy the company of cricketers. I feel there are certain aspects of the game only those who play, at whatever level, are quite in touch with. I respect how challenging the game is. I try not to judge too precipitously.
Among several books you have authored the readers still feel that you kept few things under wrap in Gideon Haigh On Warne. Is it true?
It’s not meant to be a comprehensive biography of Warne. It’s intended to capture something of the essence of Warne through looking at him from five perspectives. I could choose a different five aspects and it would be a wholly different book.
You always loved reading, be it history, the classics and Shakespeare; Any new additions to these segments?
I’m always discovering new writers. They’re often old writers. A personal favourite is Geoff Dyer, who is always different, always unmistakably himself.
Published in 1993 ‘The Cricket War’ still remains a massive data quest. How difficult was it as a writer to trim it down to fit into a book?
It was my first cricket book, and I naturally found everything about the subject completely fascinating. What I had to assess objectively was what really mattered. It was a good lesson. I relearn it with every book.
Seeing the legends up close and personal any particular incident you would like to share with our readers which you haven’t mentioned in your books?
Geoff Boycott out the back of the TMS box one day scolding some hapless soul on the other end of the phone: ‘Ah didn’t become a moolti-millionaire by bein’ stupid…’
Gentlemen’s Game had its own pitfalls, some getting embroiled into controversies and ugly spats. What factors led to this?
Ashis Nandy has this right, that cricket is ‘almost unique in providing ample scope for unjust play as well as having strong taboos against such play.’
The Cricket War: The Story of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket
Author: Gideon Haigh
Pages: 346; Price: Rs 499