A fabulous book for any cricket lover, be s/he the veteran or the greenhorn, maybe the Lord sipping lager at Lord’s or the tuk tuk driver from Chittagong. Undoubtedly, they will all enjoy this magnum opus that comes to us from a cricket lover of a rare distinction.
One has to know something about cricket to enjoy this magnificent book. Suited me ideally as I do not know much about cricket matters but like almost all Sri Lankans I too am connected umbilically to international cricket and especially when the home country is at the crease. Let me try and express my views on author Ranjan Mellawa writing a book. I can categorically state that if not the bull’s eye, he certainly has hit pretty close to it as a new author in his maiden venture on cricket journalism.
The man has managed to vagabond his way to be present at six World Cup finals. That alone gives him credentials to be somewhat an expert on the international scene from a spectator’s point of view. Ranjan has been an ardent cricket fan. He’s played too, starting with a plastic bat as a kid to rustic cricket in neighborhood tennis-ball matches. From there he graduated to club level domestic league. Hence, his story begins at grass-root level and then blossoms and spreads wild and wide taking him to the world of international cricket as a die-hard knowledgeable fan.
Ranjan’s entire cricket journey is the book; it is his “labour of love.” Undoubtedly, he has done his best to compile a delightful read giving the full monty to cricket.
The historical facts alone illuminate the pages. They are all there, the characters who walked to the pitch and made things happen, 400 pages of it. Then come the match results and scores, every possible detail meticulously recorded to make the book almost a mini Cricket Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is no fiction here, but selected fact as space alone would have limited and compelled the author to separate the venerated from the vernacular. The result is a glitter of distinction totally encompassing anything and everything of the game of cricket.
He hasn’t missed any beats in this saga; “who did what first” gives a wonderful tapestry of cricketing achievements and who erred and scarred the game too are mentioned.
Let me start with some fragments of cricket history that fill the Winds Behind The Willows. The first official test was between England and Australia in 1877. That many would know. But who knows about the international cricket played between USA and Canada in 1844? Or how Grace played in Philadelphia in 1872? Then there is Bart King the American jack of all trades who in his heyday would have matched Sir Garfield Sobers or the flamboyant Wasim Akram as a renowned all-rounder. How about the wine merchant Thomas Lord who built a cricket ground in 1787 and gave birth to the MCC? That was the beginning of the “Cathedral of Cricket.” 1884, what was so special? Turn to page 210, and the fairy-tale of how The Ashes came to the cricketing world is beautifully expressed. You better read the book to know all these fascinating details. I am only clipping the bails like a wicketkeeper to get you going. And here is the Confucius of all questions: Who are the Olympic champions of cricket? That sure is a Malinga yorker. Page 159 will wise you up with the details.
Now comes the spectator. Without him and her in their coloured country-representing shirts the spectacle would have been a dull duel that would have gone from boring to very boring. The author has given due recognition to the flag-waving cricketing matadors who travelled with their favourite teams across continents as cheerleaders. They, on home grounds, became crowd mascots dancing to calypso beats or African and baila rhythms from paparé bands which are mainly a third-world phenomenon. Of course, the tide did change too for Her Majesty’s tie-and-jacket elite when the bare-bodied beer-guzzling Barmy-Army took over the cheering. The roles changed on away matches on foreign soil. Here the cheerleader mostly stood as a solitary warrior, flag raised high and waving, fighting a lone battle bigger than what was going on on the pitch. But they were there, come win or lose, to bellow with hoarse voices whatever encouragements they could dish out to prod their home-country players.
There is an immortalised sculpture in the Sydney Cricket Ground, erected in honour of the best cheerleader they knew, Stephen Harold Gascoigne, better known as Yabba in the 1930s. Then there is our own Percy, forever remembered wherever Sri Lanka played. Pakistan has Chaudhry Abdul Jalil the bearded green-clad Cricket Uncle of enormous girth. India comes with Gautam who followed Tendulkar in every match. Away in the Caribbean, there is Gravy who was the cheerleader in Antigua, dressed in cricket outfits as if he was ready to go and bat. Even the Irish had their own, Adrian Raftery, fondly known as Larry the Leprechaun. Author Ranjan has given all of them their due place in the book, which they truly deserve. That is the beauty of this story; it has a slot for everyone who was part of the game, parading in the pages and doing their part, the stalwarts illuminating and the villains in shame.
He hasn’t missed any beats in this saga; “who did what first” gives a wonderful tapestry of cricketing achievements and who erred and scarred the game too are mentioned. I pick some to highlight, if not I will myself be writing a whole book. There is so much fact here that has changed with time and given new life to cricket. Who first bowled the square-arm “slinger” and got no-balled or how Greg Chappell un-sportingly instructed his brother Trevor to bowl underarm against the Kiwis which resulted in the international ban of underarm bowling; they are all here. The origin of Dilscoop, Ajantha’s Carrom Ball, or how Mathews did a jump and skip, and caught people at the boundary line are classy information. Do you know who brought the concept of the ever so important third umpire? Or for that matter when did it all start in international matches? Page 136 has the answers. And what was the first cricket club in Ceylon? Bet you wouldn’t know. These are all in Ranjan’s menu card. But the best to me was Coach Dave Whatmore’s vital message to waterman Pushpakumara to be conveyed to the Sri Lankan batsmen on the pitch. The whispered conversation between the batters and the messenger is simply hilarious. Pick page 71 and enjoy the snippet.
Interesting details come to the book about different formats of the world championships. 1975 was the beginning of the Prudential Cup, and all the details light up the pages which include who played whom and what happened and such. Yes, Google is there if anyone is interested in getting details but then though accurate it is without a soul, not like the written word from a die-hard fan of the game. Ranjan had certainly burnt the candle at both ends to illuminate the narration. It is the ideal source for you and me to dwell in a world of cricket at the top rung of the international level and reminisce what little we remembered, elaborated by Ranjan’s details. And did you know that women’s 50-over World Cup was played two years prior to the Prudential? Read page 49 and give a cheer to the ladies who started it all. Hard to admit for the macho mind but true. The ladies played one-day World Cup cricket before the men.
Then comes the tumble of the T20. We all know what that is all about and how the game changed and how the IPL made capable cricketers into overnight millionaires. This was where Dhoni stepped onto the pedestal of greatness when India won the first T20 World Championship held in South Africa. The second T20 was in 2009 in England. Here the author details some of the cricket played in his wonderfully-styled script which is more from a cricket lover than a journalist. How Yuvraj took six sixes off the English bowlers is cricket punishment at its mercurial best. In comes, Sri Lanka against the Australians and the match commentary on Ranjan’s pages lushly describes kind of a ball-by-ball narration of what took place on the pitch. The final gets the best from the author where Pakistan with “Boom-Boom” Afridi steals the championship to the cries of “Pakistan Zindabad” from a green-clad army of ardent fans. Sri Lanka went down fighting, and Sangakkara’s magnificent unbeaten 64 gave solace to the fans plus a proud memory to take home.
So much cricket in different forms has been analysed and presented in this book. I like the simplicity of author Ranjan’s expressions. He claims to be no authority of willow-wielding, and he certainly is no arrogant brag-bat preaching to the ignorant like me who are mere fans of the game. If you are an expert, I am sure you will find Ranjan’s cricket logic admirable and acceptable and his event statistics totally accurate. Such is the story that springs out of Winds Behind The Willows. A fabulous book for any cricket lover, be s/he the veteran or the greenhorn, maybe the Lord sipping lager at Lord’s or the tuk tuk driver from Chittagong. Undoubtedly, they will all enjoy this magnum opus that comes to us from a cricket lover of a rare distinction.
So, it’s gone to the third umpire, that is you, to read the book and make your decision. It is not my review that matters, but your conclusion.
(Captain Elmo Jayawardena left school at 17. He’s been an aviator for a long time. In the midst of an illustrious career, he penned many books, including the 2001 Gratiaen Prize winner “Sam’s Story and State Literary Award winner “The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay”. “CandleAid Lanka,” is his brainchild, for people in need. Capt Jayawardena can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.)