Passion and First-hand Knowledge

Review of Winds Behind the Willows at goodreads

First things first, I am an oddball, an Indian but dyed in the wool Sri Lanka cricket fan since I started watching cricket (1996 WC). Of late that has led to significantly more heartburn and heartbreak than I would like.

The last book on SL cricket that I had read was a brilliant work of fiction, The Chinaman, I was very keen on a non-fiction now especially from a SL fan’s perspective. As an Indian who has spent his life in India and the US with very few SL friends and fans this was a much awaited moment to connect with the brothers (and sisters) from another cricketing mother.

Ranjan has led the life, cricketing wise, that I have dreamt of. Been to every WC final (ODI and T20) where SL has played (W2, L4). Been on the historic flight back with the boys of 1996 from Lahore to Colombo. Supported the men in deep blue when the going has been tough, which is pretty much always nowadays, and in general invested a large portion of his adult life in SL cricket, primarily as a fan and also an administrator at local levels.

I was looking primarily for titbits and anecdotes of what being a SL fan prior to 1996 was, and how exactly did this inconspicuous small island nation became a cricketing force to be reckoned with (along with a couple of world cup titles). Also, what ails SL cricket. Have read about the politics as much as I could but never had the insights that I looked for.

Ranjan delivered on all of the above. The things that work in favour of the book are Ranjan’s passion, first-hand knowledge of the behind the scenes workings of SLC, the cricketers and administrators and especially his detailed description of the many cricket tours he’s undertaken – the venues, cities, people, and the cricket of course.

It’s Ranjan’s first book and he deserves kudos for what he has produced. A walk down memory lane for anyone who is remotely a SL cricket fan and maybe for most cricket fans in general.

The highlight for me were (1) The entire episode around 1996, the terrorist strikes in SL prior to the tournament, Aus and WI refusing to play, how the SL fans cheered the Ind-Pak team, the fairy-tale of the tournament and of course the entire vivid description of what being a SL fan in Lahore that night was like (It was amazing from what he says!) and (2) the murky details of SLC admin politics. How this dream run of 1996 led to egos, hubris, and an overall gold rush of non-cricket focused characters to get in on the gravy train and milk it dry.

The violence in many SLC elections, the wheeling dealing, the shady characters and their malpractices make for a riveting and very frustrating read. As a non-Lankan SL fan I had not been privy to most of this and was fascinating how much opportunity was squandered and equally surprising how the little nation of top class cricketers managed to achieve in spite of these admins.

It’s Ranjan’s first book and he deserves kudos for what he has produced. A walk down memory lane for anyone who is remotely a SL cricket fan and maybe for most cricket fans in general. However, for the review to be honest I will need to call out the pieces I felt can be improved upon.

(1) The length – the 381 pages could easily have been shaved by third. In the second half Ranjan spends too much time recapping the details of the games, especially SL WC finals, that most people reading this book already remember quite well. Not suggesting he cut it entirely, but the reason we will pick up this book is not for ball-by-ball reminders of those special moments, but more about his insights and observations from the vantage points. Maybe some gossip too!

(2) The focus – As a first time author writing about his personal experience about something dear to him and the readers it is normal to make it somewhat autobiographical, and Ranjan could have avoided this to some extent. I think after reading 100-150 pages of his personal experiences with these SL games and stars the readers would have started to connect a lot more with him and wanted to know more about him personally. However, there’s a fair amount about himself in the first 100 pages, at which point the readers don’t know this person and may not be as keen.

The last one is more minor, the constant use of italics and ‘quotes’, as well as the overuse of clichés was a bit jarring throughout the book. The descriptions and narratives were of a distinctly superior quality than the dialogues too. I am sure in his next publication (and I sure hope he writes more) he will take care of this.

On the whole, an entirely enjoyable experience. And thanks for refreshing some of the best memories of all time.

(Based in Seattle, USA, Suhel Banerjee is an Internet professional with 10+ years at Google and Amazon; across online advertising, e-commerce, general management, product management and social media.)


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