Monday, January 29, 2018

Democracy's XI - Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai is the son of former Test cricketer Dilip Sardesai, one of the men who starred in India's first overseas wins in West Indies and England circa 1971. He is also a first class cricketer who played for Oxford and Combined Universities. He has also written a book 'The Election that Changed India'. Rajdeep is known more famously as an award winning TV personality.

Rajdeep's approach the the book is unique. He tries to map India's growth as a democracy through cricket, through eleven players who he feels somehow represent the spirit that India's democracy stood for. The players are - Dilip Sardesai (1960s), Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli. He picked four landmark eras that coincided and defined the way the country's consciousness grew and the way cricket grew too, represented by these men. The four eras are - the 1971 tour when India beat the West Indies for the first time in an overseas tour (and later England), winning the 1983 World Cup, liberalisation in 1991 and the IPL in 2008. It is through these times and through the life and times of these men that we follow the course of the game and the country.

The one about his father was by far the best profile, followed by the ones about Pataudi, Gavaskar and Azharuddin (the most controversial choice as he says). There are several interesting nuggets in the profiles of each of these players who have been written about  so much and Rajdeep met all of them while writing the book. But to me the book was mostly about what was not said - the father - son relationship between Dilip and Rajdeep Sardesai.

Dilip Sardesai is the only Goan Test cricketer to date. He grew up in Goa with no coaching but caught the eye of those who played against him. When his family moved to Bombay Dilip Sardesai quickly converted his passion and played for India as a 22 year old against the fearsome West Indies in 1962 (the series when Nari Contractor almost died). Known as a great motivator and one who understood the game well, Dilip Sardesai's 'popatwadi' remark is folklore. Apparently he saw the West Indies bowling in 1971 and realised that he had to get his team mates get over the fear of foreign oppositions and play them on merit and told his partner Solkar who came in to bat that this was 'popatwadi' bowling and should be played as such. They merrily stitched together a partnership and India won the series in which Gavaskar scored some 700 odd runs in his debut series but more importantly, Dilip Sradesai, the Renaissance man, scored, 680 odd runs. In acts like these behind the scenes, Dilip Sardesai helped his team gain an upper hand and scored a double hundred and a 150.

Now the same friendly motivator and coach however was pretty brusque in his handling of young Rajdeep who he told bluntly that he was not meant for the game and would not play higher cricket at a time when he had played Under 22 cricket for Bombay (no mean task - an Under 22 Bombay player can play for most other Ranji teams in India especially those days). He gave a lot of attention to Rajdeep's contemporary Sanjay Manjrekar though and one can only feel what Rajdeep might have felt with no support coming from perhaps his biggest idol. I would have done what he did - give up the game at the earliest opportunity. Like all children it is also natural to want to do one's parents proud and many times it is the burden of the successful fathers that hangs like a noose on young players. It hangs heavy.

When we see theories on expertise and the mindset these days we realise that talent and intelligence  is not the end all - deliberate effort, focused learning, good coaches and mentors and a supportive family - have changed the fortunes of those who were not seen as talented earlier. But one did not have the benefit of such studies then nor was sport so democratised and perhaps Dilip Sardesai in his wisdom prodded Rajdeep in a direction in which he did so well finally. But then, all success aside, and the pride of doing one's parents proud in their area is another, and that I felt was the unsaid part of the book. Frankly I would have been quite glad to read a story about Dilip and Rajdeep and understood India from their own stories. I did not need the others really. If I was the editor I would have pursued that angle.

He is a gentle, polite and self effacing man, Rajdeep as I realised when I met him briefly to moderate his session on the book at the Hyderabad Literary Festival. He spoke passionately, convincingly and won the crowd over with his points. I felt he had withdrawn a bit, lost in the madness that journalism has dipped into these days. The book was too nice, too neat and too good - Indian cricket is not like that unless we choose to look at it that way and the players he speaks about are heroes in the game but are as human as anyone of us otherwise. So I wondered for a moment if it was a safe book to write. But all said and done, it captures Indian cricket and its journey well, it is an interesting connection to make and sometime when I read his memoir, I will get to read about the part I suspect - a son's longing to gain his father's approval, acceptance, agreement and encouragement. Rajdeep writes well and the book never loses energy.


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