Bestselling author and journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai, has painted a revolutionary parallel outlining the socio-political scenario of pre-independence India to the growth of cricket as a “meritocratic sport” over the 70 years post-independence. He has picked up certain eminent personalities whose names are etched in the history of Indian cricket for reasons created not just ‘on the field’ rather more ‘off the field’.

The cricketers enlisted in Sardesai’s team of 11, namely Dilip Sardesai, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli, have unknowingly defined their own era through their descent, talent or style. The eleven ‘portraits’, running across the 371 page book, are substantial enough to understand how cricket grew along with the country, how a cricket field defined ‘secularism’, how the sport erased the lines or borders and how it became a true embodiment of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’.

Sardesai commences his literary piece with the mention of his father, Dilip Sardesai, a cricketer himself who represented the India of 1960s, that is, lack of money or deep financial crisis.

Mansur Ali Khan PataudiHe moves on to the second player in the list, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the Captain of Indian Cricket Team, representing the ‘elite’ or ‘nawabs’ of that time. Sardesai states the ‘elite connection’ of the sport, be it through players or audience with absolutely zero involvement of the masses of India; as Nehru or Indira Gandhi were ruling the political stage majorly because of their ‘royal manners’ and ‘aristocracy’.

In Bishan Singh Bedi, Indian cricket found an anti-hero figure who truly depicted an outspoken and no-nonsense personality. A fearless cricketer on the field, the then Indian Captain fought for player rights and fair remuneration and took the battle with BCCI administration in his own hands.

sunil gavaskarNext we read about, the original middle class hero: Sunil Gavaskar. He was the man who took cricket to the ‘masses’. Hailing from not so rich family, Gavaskar’s humble background made him connect with the people of India at the grassroot level. At this time, that is 1970s-80s, India was also developing at the ground level. Indian politicians were trying to uplift the population by reaching out to the masses through various means. During this time, ‘a hero was blindly followed and Gavaskar became that ‘hero’ for the followers of cricket across the country.

Kapil DevThe arrival of Kapil Dev gave India it’s first ‘true fast bowling spearhead’ and more importantly broke the shackles of the sport being labelled as the upper-caste and Brahmin dominated with metro cities as the epicenter of the sport. In India’s political scenario, Green Revolution brought about an exponential rise in agricultural productivity and gave more power to rural India in the overall economic setup.

Talking about Mohd. Azharuddin, a muslim by religion, his advent as a cricketer in the 90s witnessed the massive religious or communal blow in the history of independent India; the Babri Masjid controversy. Although quite interestingly, he was appointed as the Captain during that time, defining ‘secularism’ as a paramount, something which conveyed that there’s nothing as ‘hindu’ or ‘muslim’, the only entity or religion that exists is ‘Indian’.

sachin tendulkarThe ‘commercialization’ brought in by Sachin Tendulkar runs parallel with the Liberalization policies brought in the late 1990s. Cricket started reaping monetary benefits as India grew financially.

Sourav Ganguly’s dominance was a major turn from the ‘modesty’ that reigned the sport. If anyone could have made the then Australian skipper Steve Waugh “wait” for the toss, it was Sourav Ganguly. It was the aura, the leadership and most importantly the courage to look in the eye and confront the wrong that made Ganguly stamp his authority in a short period of time.

Ganguly’s dominant style was superbly complimented by Rahul Dravid’s calming influence on the team and eventually the sport. In an era, when match fixing, sledging and off-field controversies were getting common everyday, Dravid was the “gentleman” that always held the “spirit of the game” together, NO MATTER WHAT.

dhoniHowever, as Rajdeep Sardesai puts, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the real ‘hero’ of his book out of all the eleven cricketers he mentions. Why? Because with Dhoni’s selection and admission in the team, avenues for budding cricketers in the remotest of areas of India, flung open. He became the ‘apple of the eye’ of the spectators globally. He marked the era of digital penetration in the villages of India. He was, as Sardesai says, “Small town revolutionary”.

He was followed by our youth icon, Virat Kohli, a millennial master.  He is the representative of the ‘global connection’ through social media, raising opinions, using media to create awareness.

Why to read it?

The concept of the book is intriguing. The narrative’s division into 11 chapters dedicated to the eleven players, selectively chosen on what they achieved “beyond the field”. The factually researched ‘bildungsroman’ of ‘cricket in India’ is a content rich platter seasoned with nostalgia and strong views. A subjective discourse ‘Democracy’s XI’ is an insight into the intricately woven details for those who are just not avid ‘spectators’ of the sport rather are inquisitive to find out the reason behind its ‘massive appeal. To know more about the remaining cricketers, get hold of a personal copy as its worth a read!

Written By: Sukriti Sehgal

Inputs: Sumanyu Jain

Image Source: Google