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Hidden tales of Mumbai's stalwarts

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Cover of <i>Bombay Boys: Bombay Boys: Chronicles of Cricketing Heroes</i>For years at the KSCA Stadium in Bangalore during Test matches, I have shared seats with some of the most passionate watchers of the game. Here, anecdotes flow, history is recalled, often whimsy and quirkiness reign, competing fantasies are bandied about (as when picking all-time XIs). Players, past and present, drop in to say hello, journalists clarify doubts. My companions have been Ramachandra Guha, Vedam Jaishankar and Makarand Waingankar; and what the last-named did not know about Mumbai cricket, it was accepted, was not worth knowing. Waingankar wore his love for Mumbai on his sleeve, and once argued with me over the "dropping" of a Mumbai player from an all-time India XI. He took it very personally. "The beauty of Mumbai cricket," he writes in this collection of pen sketches of players, which first appeared in the Times of India, "was that one great era was followed by another greater one." The 76 players discussed here range from India greats to Ranji heroes to maidan stalwarts. There is the story of Nari Contractor's mother feeling uneasy and having to drop off at a railway station while travelling to Mumbai to give birth to the future India captain (as an aside, we are told that the engine driver was an uncle of Contractor's). She didn't make it to Mumbai but delivered the child in Gujarat. And that was how Contractor was eligible to play for Gujarat in the Ranji Trophy; he made his bow with centuries in each innings on debut. In the days when local players didn't stay at the teams' hotel, Budhi Kunderan, the former India wicketkeeper, who "lived in a chawl [tenement] with six siblings" was forced to sleep outside in a garden with the "mosquitos around and the stars above" for company. This on the eve of a Test match against Australia. Waingankar mines a rich vein of such stories to compile an anecdotal history of the players who made Mumbai the team it became. Each essay leaves you with a desire for more, but the format of a newspaper column works against such depth or even range. And since these appeared over a period of time, there is some repetition of thoughts and ideas, which stands out when they are all put together between the covers of a book. Perhaps Waingankar should have told us more about fewer people, or expanded his original columns to suit the narrative of a book. He has also been let down by poor editing. Yet there is something charming, even inspiring, about the many stories told of cricket in Mumbai and those who played it there with a mixture of seriousness and often without any hope of climbing the ladder to the top. Read about the cricketer whose ambition was to be a mathematician, another who hit his first ball in the Ranji Trophy for a six, and the man who played in the Kanga League for 50 years in a row! Often, anecdotes tell us more about a player than statistics. Bombay Boys Chronicles of Cricketing Heroes By Makarand Waingankar Times Group Books 224 pages, Rs 299 Suresh Menon is the editor of the Wisden India Almanack RSS Feeds: Suresh Menon © ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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