There’s a passage in Eye on Cricket where Samir Chopra, the author, discusses a story narrated to him by his father, about an encounter in 1945 between CK Nayudu and Keith Miller. He goes on to explain how it contributed to the romance he associated with the game. Years later, upon further investigation, he finds out that the numbers don’t quite add up.
Whose fuzzy logic is to blame isn’t known, but Chopra concludes that it doesn’t matter, not really anyway, because “every human endeavor relies on mythology, on storytelling, for sustenance and flourishing; this was part of cricket oeuvre.”
This is where the book shines as Chopra chronicles his journey as a cricket fan who grew up in a nation obsessed with the sport before settling down in the United States of America, “a cricketing wasteland”. Most of the passages rely purely on memory so the book isn’t weighed down by facts and figures.
The stories of a childhood steeped in cricket in Delhi don’t simply highlight the passion for the game in India; they also offer some interesting home truths. A friend’s Duncan Fearnley teaches the author early on a lesson in haves and have-nots, and also serves as a reminder that he too wasn’t above maintaining class-based apartheid. In another instance, Chopra reflects on the murky selection processes to play college-level cricket and how easily aspiring cricketers can slip through the cracks.
Distance, in this case, shows that the heart truly does grow fonder. A chance encounter with a fellow cricket fan in US suddenly becomes a moment to savour for Chopra. Of course, this seems downright bizarre to the average Indian fan, where opinions on cricket are a dime a dozen. But “when a good ball, or a great shot, or a terrible umpiring decision is on display, the fan wants his appreciation or dismay to not disappear into the ether. Rather he seeks to have it echoed, needing evidence his cry of despair of joy has been heard.”
The author’s background as a professor of philosophy offers a fresh perspective. It’s unlikely Aristotle and the concept of golden mean will find mention in many other cricketing tomes but here, it’s used to introduce a point about the spirit of cricket. By the end of it, you invariably find yourself nodding in agreement that cricket’s cast of characters could only benefit from reading Nichomachean Ethics, Book 2.
Chopra offers much personal insight but steers clear of boring the reader by adopting a light tone. “Walking in an umpire’s shoes” is a lovely example of the many fun anecdotes peppered throughout the pages. That perhaps is why the only chapter that seems a bit incongruous is the recap of the Oval Test of 1979. It works well as a standalone piece but doesn’t offer much more than sober analysis. Still, that is a minor complaint in an otherwise absorbing book.
For readers who grew up on a diet of Indian Premier League matches, this may not hold your interest unless you also enjoy a healthy serving of Test cricket. The author makes a note early on that he is a child of the five-day format, and that distinctly colours his view of the game. However, if you’re an old soul or just one for nostalgia – something that Chopra definitely excels in – look no further than this book.
Eye on Cricket: Reflections on the Great Game by Samir Chopra
246 p, Rs 399