Missing leg stump
An expedition during the 2011 World Cup that ends up as a documentary rather than a discovery
Ayoung, determined Vaibhav Vats, inspired by CLR James’s epochal Beyond A Boundary and Rahul Bhattacharya’s cricket travelogue Pundits from Pakistan, decides to hit the road during the 2011 World Cup for a personal discovery of South Asia.
His book, Triumph in Bombay: Travels During The Cricket World Cup, encapsulates a journey that starts on the five-coach Maitree Express from Kolkata to Dhaka, and ends six glorious weeks later at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, via Mohali, Ahmedabad, Colombo, and Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged north-eastern city of Trincomalee.
The author painstakingly meets all the right people. M.M. Akash, a professor of economics at Dhaka University talks to him about the demerits of Muslim fundamentalism. ‘C’ and ‘N’, respectively a Sinhalese journalist and a Harvard-educated Tamil lawyer, argue fervently at a party in Colombo about whether or not the anti-Tamil riots in 1983 in Sri Lanka should be called a genocide. But despite these brief snatches in which it rises above the narrative, the book is illustrative of how good cricket writing and travel writing are perhaps more onerous than they seem from the outside.
It’s hard not to think about how the delayed arrival of this book threatens to render it irrelevant. Two-and-a-half years after that heady April evening at the Wankhede, when India lifted the Cup, we are closer to the next edition of the tournament. In the meantime, the star of the tournament, Yuvraj Singh, has been diagnosed with cancer, got treated, written a book about it, and successfully made his international comeback.
What rankles the most is that the author’s interactions with random people he runs into during his travels are more engaging than the cricket. Talking of the final ball, which M.S. Dhoni dispatched for a six to win India the tournament, the author writes: “It is a moment that even today I can recreate at will, but the fever of it is something I shall always fail to describe…” Unfortunately this honest self-assessment holds true for a lot of the match-play writing.
Triumph In Bombay scores a grinding century for commitment. It’s a good first effort with the promise of better things to come, but as the author writes about Kenya’s crawl to 127 for five in 40 overs against Sri Lanka, there are spells when it “seems to be in stasis; neither capitulating nor moving forward”.
TRIUMPH IN BOMBAY: TRAVELS DURING THE CRICKET WORLD CUP by Vaibhav Vats Penguin Price: RS 399 Pages: 240