Many unsung heroes come to life in Second XI. © Getty Images

Many unsung heroes come to life in Second XI. © Getty Images

A cricket buff since her childhood, Manvi Dhodhi moved to Dubai after her graduation in Bangalore in 2005, and found her way into the United Arab Emirates Women’s team. Five international games and six years later, she quit a posh job with a multinational bank and joined the staff of the Sharjah Cricket Association to make a living out of the game.

Sultan Zarawani, Nolan Clarke, Trent Johnston, Steve Tikolo and Gavin Hamilton among others are in a way Dhodhi’s amplified versions. They are spirited outliers who took a giant leap of faith and put their countries on the global cricket map. They and many such unsung heroes from ten non-Test playing nations come to life in Second XI – Cricket in its Outpost, a lovely book co-authored by Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller.

The readers are told about Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan’s captain, celebrating the release of his father from the hands of kidnappers in 2013 by playing the knock of his life in a must-win game in Namibia. About Ireland’s Roy Torrens, who once spent a night before a game against Australia in 1968 sleeping on the armchair at a fan’s house because the association lacked funds to see to their stay. And, much later in the 2001 ICC Trophy in Canada, about James Fitzgerald, an Irish journalist, who doubled up as Ireland’s twelfth man.

Elsewhere, Aasif Karim recounts Kenya’s historic win over West Indies in the 1996 World Cup and his memorable returns of 3 for 7 in 8.2 overs against Australia in the 2003 tournament before his country’s rapid fall. Peter Borren narrates how Netherlands lost their One-Day International status because of two bad matches, having done everything right for three years. Similarly, Zarawani explains why Emiratis look down upon cricket, while Scotland’s Calum MacLeod reasons out his life choices.

At a time when the debate surrounding the participation of associate teams in the 2019 World Cup is at the forefront, the book, though romantic anecdotes, historical perspective and an in-depth analysis of each of the ten nations’ current standing, proves to be a wonderful reminder of the positive ramifications of an inclusive sport. From a broader perspective, the volume stands up for the travails of the larger cricketing community that disagrees on the founding principle of the Big Three.

The authors – true to the theme – have distributed the countries among five writers. It ensures that none of the chapters overlap into each other and every team’s story has a fresh and personal narrative to it.

While Wigmore delves into Afghanistan’s theatrical rise, Ireland’s clinical approach and demand for more competition, Scotland’s slide after being a dominant force in the circuit for so long and Kenya’s self-destructive mission, Miller brings out UAE’s and United States of America’s expat conundrum and the Netherlands’ unique problems. Gideon Haigh’s timeless piece on Papua New Guinea from the Nightwatchman is reproduced in full, and Sahil Dutta introduces us to the yeomen services of Aminul Islam, Bangladesh’s first Test centurion, who has been relentlessly trying to spread the game in China. Dutta also makes a strong case for cricket to be an Olympic sport, as it would almost assure a wholesome involvement from the world’s most populous country. At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Brooks’s precise essay does justice to Nepal cricket’s vibrant character.

The book stands up for the travails of the larger cricketing community that disagrees on the founding principle of the Big Three.

The book stands up for the travails of the larger cricketing community that disagrees on the founding principle of the Big Three.

The plot of the book is such that it demanded the writers to read between the lines and decipher the multi-layered nature of existing cricket politics, and they have done it quite comprehensively. They have spelt out some uncomfortable truths, credited institutions wherever due and called the International Cricket Council out more often than not.

Moreover, the simple language and the writers’ clarity of thought not only shows where their heart lies, but also paints a running picture for the readers about the cricketing culture of the countries, enough to provoke thought. Equally captivating are the colour photographs that display nothing but pride in success and unconditional love for the game.

Also, the book serves an important archival function, bringing together the history of ten second-tier cricket countries under one cover.

If the book misses out somewhere, it is in the absence of an authoritative voice from the ICC to present their case, and in completing the XI. To justify the title, another country’s story could have been shared, and no one deserved a few pages more than Hong Kong.

They were pioneers in their own rights, having conceptualised Hong Kong Cricket Sixes in 1992, an annual-weekend tournament that has drawn some of the biggest stars from around the world for many years now. And, the team has also done well to regain its ODI status last year.

Nevertheless, the book is a delight for any cricket lover, and the authors have now primed themselves up for a duology – the Third XI, with tales from Canada, Bermuda, Namibia – three countries that have played in the World Cup – Hong Kong, Argentina, France, Fiji, Malaysia, Qatar, Rwanda, Zambia, Samoa and Vanuatu, perhaps.

Second XI – Cricket in its Outpost by Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller
Pitch Publishing
224 p, Rs 1,288 (Online price, paperback edition)
Rating: 4.5/5