Friday, January 8, 2016

The Hyderabad Literary Festival 2016 - Moderating a Panel on Writing Cricket

We had discussed the idea of a sports writing panel earlier - Vijay Kumar and me. Finally, this year we did put together a cricket writing panel comprising of V. Ramnarayan and Vijay Lokapally. Vijay L had to call off finally due to some other engagements but we found some support from my old team mate Vjay Mohanraj who gamely stepped in to be part of the panel at the last moment. We three old cricketers from Hyderabad discussed cricket and writing for an hour.

To introduce my panelists.
V. Ramnarayan – first class cricketer, leads the list of those who ought to have played for India but never did. He is an off spinner who ranked on par with Prasanna and Venkatraghavan, was a banker, is a writer, winner of writing awards, editor of the only magazine in India on performing arts, teacher at the Asian College of Journalism, writer of his latest book ‘Third Man’ and much more. 

Vijay Mohanraj -  debonair and ever reliable professional whom we affectionately call Tony (I never asked him why) with whom I spent the few years of playing first class cricket. He is the MD of Uniglobe Sameera Travels and a big name in the travel industry today as President of SKOL. Tony was  one of the pillars on whose great efforts Hyderabad won the Ranji Trophy in 1987, when he closed out Delhi in the final with a typically gutsy inning of 211 not out. He is a man I seek for good cricketing insights (he is mentioned in 50 Not Out) and advise and someone who thinks and writes about the game. He has been on the winning side more often than not – he was in winning teams for Mumbai and Hyderabad. Sometime during the discussion I would love to talk about the Mumbai style of cricket.

We started off by speaking about what makes good cricket writing. Ram said it should be able to report it as it is without adding unnecessary fiction to it (he recounted a time when he was abused by a media person for a role in match he never played!). Vijay in his usual forthright fashion said it should be about the truth. 

Then we wondered about how much a writer needs to understand the game to write well about it. Ram said people can pick up the nuances but it is necessary to have played it at some level. Vijay agreed with him and said that there is a lot of complexity in the game and it was not easy for the layman to do justice to the writing. On the Kohli incident (he said that those who have not played at the highest level do not have the expertise to comment about it) - both said it was an immature comment and that one should accept criticism. One has to learn to be thick skinned and not get drawn into every provocation said Vijay. He mentioned how he was also maligned when he batted well and got a hundred but he learned how to absorb all that and not let it affect him.

Ram spoke about how difficult a subject cricket was to understand and know its finer points.He recounted the M.L. Jaisimha benefit match and how the great Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz gave a demonstration of reverse swing. It is difficult to understand many finer points of the game even for seasoned cricketers.

We looked at the various types of cricket writing – journalistic writing, biographies/autobiographies, non-fiction, self-help, fiction and film writing. Between us we pretty much covered most of it in some form or another. When asked which was the most difficult according to them - Ram voted for autobiographies and rued the fact that he may not have been as honest as he could have been in his autobiography. Vijay also mentioned how the progression of the game has changed how it is being written about with the advent of television and Internet. 

I asked them if they thought cricket writing had any effect on the craft or how a player plays. Ram said it certainly would shape the way a player develops and thinks. Vijay also added emphatically that reading, which is not much of a habit with players now, really allows them to reflect and think about the game from other perspectives. Ram however added that he felt that Indian cricket writing was comparable to the best in the world.

In conclusion both felt that our writing needs to also be about the not so nice aspects of the game, and be more honest.  I asked them, both champions who played when Hyderabad was at its top, what was going wrong. They felt that the money and the commercialisation was one part and that the administrators were not willing to listen to constructive feedback. In fact they were muzzling all progressive thoughts by offering them posts and keeping them quiet.

There were a few questions - one by Santosh of Eenadu, who asked about the changes in cricket writing, one by Sanjay Gadhalay who wanted to know if IPL was the real villain and a couple more including one by a young lady who asked Ram how to write on cricket. Ram told her to join the course he teaches on sports jounalism in the Asian College of Journalism. It was nice to see Jayesh Ranjan, Chair of the HLF in the audience, old friends Madhavi Puranam, Prakash, Santosh, Sanjay Gadhalay, Sreenath and others.

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