Book Review: A Million Broken Windows3 min read . Updated: 04 Apr 2015, 12:18 AM IST
The best parts of this book, an ode to Mumbai cricket, are the stories of the relative unknowns who kept the city's cricket tradition alive
An evening walk around Mumbai’s Shivaji Park shows how football fever is assiduously spreading across what is one of the greatest cricketing nurseries in the world. It is safe to assume that no other 20-acre patch of green has produced as many Test cricketers as Shivaji Park has. But now the cricketers jostle for space with young boys more keen to kick a football around.
Is Mumbai cricket in terminal decline? It is not an easy question to answer. Mumbai did reach the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy this year. And though it lost to old rivals and eventual winners Karnataka, the way a team of young greenhorns clawed their way into the semi-finals after a few disastrous early games showed that the old Mumbai fighting spirit is not quite dead. It should also be remembered that the threat to cricket in Shivaji Park is balanced with a flowering of the game in distant suburbs; both Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane began playing at the geographical extremities of the city.
Makarand Waingankar has written an affectionate ode to Mumbai cricket. The long tradition of Mumbai batting is well known: from Vijay Merchant to Vijay Manjrekar to Ajit Wadekar to Sunil Gavaskar to Dilip Vengsarkar to Sachin Tendulkar. Waingankar has cogently explained the reasons why Mumbai has produced an endless stream of classical batsmen. The founding principle was laid down by the great Merchant: Stay on the wicket and the runs will come. And the runs did come in torrents when Mumbai was at its unchallenged peak.
He also wonders whether this strong batting tradition was indirectly responsible for the fact that Mumbai has produced fewer great bowlers in comparison. The comfort of knowing that your batsmen will pile up a mountain of runs may have resulted in less pressure on the Mumbai bowlers to perform; the small club grounds may also have killed the flighted ball.
The best parts of the book are not about the stars but the relative unknowns who kept the Mumbai tradition alive. These are the subaltern stories. It is a pleasure to see the likes of Madhav Mantri, Madhav Apte, Manohar Hardikar, Vasu Paranjape, Urmikant Modi, Sharad Diwadkar, Padmakar Shivalkar, Ashok Mankad, Milind Rege and Abdul Ismail featuring so often in the narrative. Some of them played for India, but they are all legends on the city maidans.
I wish the coaches who groomed generations of Mumbai cricketers had got more attention: men such as V.S. Patil, P.K. Kamath, Ankush Vaidya, Vasant Amladi and the celebrated Ramakant Achrekar. That part of the Mumbai cricketing tradition is still alive: both Rahane and Sharma have often spoken with gratitude about their respective coaches.
But a hard-core Mumbai cricket lover cannot keep this book aside without wondering whether there could have been a deeper analysis of the culture of the Mumbai clubs. These clubs are the crucibles in which the tradition was handed down to the next generation, be it at the morning nets or on rainy Sunday afternoons when the Kanga League matches were washed out. The book has several Mumbai greats speaking on how they were groomed by one of the local legends.
The clubs are no longer as central to Mumbai cricket as they once were. Old timers tell me that the decline in club loyalty has harmed Mumbai. Gavaskar had famously turned out for a Kanga League match hours after he had stepped off the plane after an England tour. The stars of today have such a packed schedule that they have no time for local cricket. The younger lot is quite mercenary in the way it switches between clubs. The generational transfer of cricketing wisdom has been stymied.
There is a lovely story recounted in the book by Hemant Kenkre, who was at the other end as a very young Tendulkar drove his first ball in senior cricket for a six, on a very difficult wicket for batsmen. Was that the end of the great Mumbai tradition of patient run accumulation? Two fine exponents of the Mumbai style of batting in recent years, Wasim Jaffer and Amol Muzumdar, never got the national recognition they deserved, as the great innovations of our times have privileged attacking batsmanship over their style of cricket. Muzumdar was also unlucky to have played just when Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman were in full flow. Rahane does show occasional glimpses of the classical Mumbai streak.
The reports from school cricket suggest that the next two run accumulators are on the horizon: Arman Jaffer and Prithvi Shaw. Yet, there is reason to wonder whether Waingankar’s ode to the Mumbai cricket tradition is also its obituary.