More than thirty years ago, English cricketer Peter Walker penned one of cricket’s most memorable books, called Cricket Conversations. As the name indicates, it was a collection of conversations between Walker and a dozen or so cricketers, including legends like Garry Sobers and Bishen Singh Bedi. The book – a slim volume – is still treasured by those fortunate to have a copy simply because of the warmth of the conversations and the way in which Walker described his subjects. In fact, his introduction to Majid Khan is considered to be one of the great pieces of cricket writing.
If it was warmth that made Cricket Conversations compelling, it is its absence that lets down a similar effort by cricket’s most famous website, ESPNCricinfo. Talking Cricket is a collection of interviews given by a number of great cricketers to Cricinfo and Wisden magazine. These are all interviews that have either appeared on the ESPNCricinfo website or in Wisden cricket magazine, which is also now owned by ESPNCricinfo. And the names are good enough for any all-time World XI: Garry Sobers, Barry Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram, Jonty Rhodes, MAK Pataudi and a number of others. On paper, that alone should make the book worth purchasing. And there are indeed some very decent conversations out there – reading Barry Richards about batting and Pataudi about captaincy should be compulsory reading for any follower of the game. Oh yes, there are some gems including Virender Sehwag admitting that he has never been in what many cricketers call “the zone” (where you can see nothing but the cricket ball, and can cancel everything else out, or MAK Pataudi snapping “who says that Indians aren’t aggressive and don’t know how to fight?…our soldiers are among the bravest in the world.”
Mind you, not everyone is as forthcoming. The interview with Frank Tyson around biometrics does tend to lag a bit (although the former English speed demon enlivens it up when he says “the law is an ass” in context of the chucking controversy), and Sachin Tendulkar remains oddly withdrawn in spite of Sambit Bal’s best attempts to engage him in conversation – he responds to references to two of his greatest innings in simple, short sentences. Which brings us back to the matter of warmth – the interviews at times do feel a bit on the dry side. There is not quite the humour or charm that one would expect when the world’s most famous website interviews some of the world’s biggest names in cricket. The introductions to the interviews are frankly threadbare – you are not told about what led up to the interview, just given the month and year of the interview, and a very brief adjective-laden paragraph that praises the subject to high heaven. Contrast that with Walker writing almost three pages to introduce a young Majid Khan, including a brilliant description of him batting for half an hour without moving his feet to prove a point, or lovingly describing Bishan Singh Bedi’s approach to bowling before actually talking to the man. The result? In Walker’s book, you had a feeling that the conversations taking place between friends, here it is clearly a legend talking to a writer. It still makes for some very good reading, but call me quirky, but it is not really quite the same league as Walker’s little classic.
The fact that it is poorly produced and costs a bomb does not help matters at all. At Rs 699 for less than 300 pages – that too of archived material – Talking Cricket is grossly overpriced. We normally do not complain about the price of books, but in this case, we simply have no choice, especially when you consider that the paper quality is nothing to write home about and the photographs could have been more numerous in quantity and better in quality (you can barely make out Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram). We would have understood this if the book had come from a smaller publisher, but it comes from Disney!
But still, should you purchase Talking Cricket? Well, if you don’t read much about the game and are just interested in its big names, definitely. But if you are a discerning reader, we would really suggest giving it a miss, and maybe borrowing it from the library. And while you are in the library, see if you can find Peter Walker’s Cricket Conversations.
This is vintage wine, true, but in a plastic bottle, and with a very expensive price tag.Talking Cricket: The Game’s Greats in Conversation With ESPNCricinfo ESPN Cricinfo Walt Disney Rs 599, 292 pp