In 1986, after India and Australia tied the second test in Chennai, I had an idea. I would write a book about this match. There was a precedent — that of Jack Fingleton The greatest test of all was an account of the first tie a quarter of a century earlier.
Writing a book about a single game has had its challenges, but there is even a book (a monograph, actually) about a single round: John Arlott’s Alletson Sleeves, about Notts batsman Edwin Alletson making 189 in 90 minutes in 1911.
Finally, my book was not written. My sportswriter wrote to the editors to pitch it – and none of us heard from them again!
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I remembered this book and other unwritten books when an interviewer asked me about one of my recent books – Why don’t you write something I can read? Reading, writing and arrhythmia — if I hadn’t written a dozen books about gambling. No, I didn’t. But my unwritten books could reach that number.
My next unwritten book was a ghost-written autobiography by Mohinder Amarnath. We spent some time in Jamshedpur during a Ranji Trophy game and then in subsequent meetings we had many informal chats. I was excited – especially about spending time with Lala Amarnath, one of the most fascinating cricketers to play for India – but nothing came of it either.
The closest to writing a book on cricket before writing one was during the inaugural tour of South Africa in 1992-93. A major publisher called me on Indian Express where I was a sportswriter and got the ball rolling. We met before the tour, and in South Africa I took a lot of notes. It was a historic tour, and there was a lot going on on and off the pitch. But when I returned to India, the editor seemed to have lost interest. I was stupid; I should have insisted on a contract and an advance rather than promises.
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In My unwritten books, critic George Steiner said, “An unwritten book is more than a void. It was the unwritten book that could have made the difference. I’d like to believe that’s true in the case of my unwritten books, but I know that’s not possible!
At different times, half a dozen Indian cricketers were keen on their autobiographies and asked me if I could write them. In one case, I got the player and the publisher together, and we discussed the project in detail. But again, things didn’t work out. I may have been to blame in some of these cases as other issues (mainly the issue of finding time) surfaced.
Sometimes I wonder what performance I could choose if I had to write on a single run. Possibly Vinoo Mankad’s 184 at Lord’s in 1952 (he made 72 in the first innings and had match numbers of 5 for 231 in 97 overs). It would be an awesome addition to my list of unwritten books.