Tag Archives: cricket

Book Review: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld by Ed Hawkins

Title: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld
Author: Ed Hawkins
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408169957
Genre: Sports Writing, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

In India, they say, two things are most famous – Bollywood and Cricket. The people who act and the people who play the game are both revered and treated like Gods. The so-called audience for both these art forms (Well sports also is a form of art, isn’t it?) is widespread, not only in India, but I can safely say, even worldwide. I also believe that every art form has its own drawbacks – the casting couch for the film industry and then the very famous “match-fixing” syndrome for the now almost national game, Cricket.

“Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy” by Ed Hawkins explores and uncovers the other side of Cricket – the game that is loved, is looked on from a Devil’s advocate view, baring and maybe even exposing the underworld of the game. Ed Hawkins does it not just from India’s perspective or targeting the sub-continent. He also links the impact to world cricket and how the game changes at various points and of course covering all major tournaments and trophies up for grabs.

I am not a lover of the game. I cannot sit and watch the game of Cricket. That is just my preference. Having said that, this book was an eye-opener to the game and its politics and dynamics. Hawkins spent a lot of time in India. He interacted with the so-called bookies – the men who make millions of dollars per cricket match. Hawkins, being a sports journalist was always aware of what was going on. However, one single tip changed it all and he decided to expose what was going on in the name of the game and that led to the writing of this book.

The book is divided into three parts and each part for me was unique (since I do not follow the game) and shocking in bits and parts. He speaks of the age-old methods used to fix matches and their impact. Hawkins also asks the most pertinent question: Should illegal betting be legalized in the country? There are several points of view as well which are put forth and make for some interesting reading.

Ed Hawkins has written the book almost in the form of a thriller – the pace is racy and not at a single point during the book, was I bored or felt that I should stop reading it. The structure of the book is precise and does not confuse the reader. For someone like me, getting into the book was a little bit of a problem, since I do not follow the game, however for Cricket lovers it will be a breeze. I strongly recommend this book for Cricket lovers to be able to see the other side of the game. Of the darkness that lurks and how it affects the game at almost every level. A great read for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

I am not a Cricket Fan, never have and probably never will be as I do not get the game. I really don’t understand the fuss over it and why do some nations go crazy after it leaving everything to just be able to watch a game. I do not understand why fans idolize and worship cricketers. What is the big deal? After all aren’t they humans, just like us?

I used to think all of the above till I read Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka. Chinaman is the most amazing book I have read this year. It is a superb work of fiction blended with non-fiction (about the game of course and beyond the game) that makes you sit up night after night reading it. I finished reading it in about 3 nights and I stand by what I say – I do not like the game nor have I started liking it after reading the book, however, this book is something to read and ponder over.

Chinaman is the story of a Sri Lankan journalist’s hunt for a long-forgotten and fictional, Sri Lankan cricket player called Pradeep Mathew. Mathew has a brief, meteoric cricketing career in the late 80s and early 90s that sees him achieve superhuman bowling records. But he vanishes as quickly as he appeared. As the curious, and increasingly obsessive, journalist, Karunasena, begins to peel back the layers of Mathew’s life he realises something is amiss. Mathew has vanished not just from the cricketing scene; it appears he has ceased to exist. His existence has even been expunged from the record books. And there is something disturbingly Orwellian about it all.

The book is all about the cricketer (but obviously) however it is also about Sri Lankan Cricket within the larger framework of Sri Lankan History and Society which sets the book apart from being just another sport-driven chronicle.

What I loved about the book is that the author has crafted a thinly veiled version of modern cricket, complete with the commentators, the horny cricketers, loose women on one hand and the greed to keep making more money on the other.

Chinaman is a slow start. It takes a lot of time to get into the book, however once you are – as the cliché goes you cannot stop till you have finished it. The sheer scope of the book itself humbles you while you are reading and savouring it. The characters are well-etched and more than that the writing is exquisite. I am guessing that the book had such a huge impact for a non-cricket-lover like me, then how would it be for a cricket fan. I am sure it would be hundred fold as he/she would then be able to relate to almost everything, including the scenes and dialogues and the characters.

At the end of it all, all I have to say is that yes please read the book. Read it may be without any biases or judgment unlike me and enjoy the lovely ride.

Chinaman; Karunatilaka, Shehan; Random House India; Hardcover; Rs. 499

The Sunset Club by Khushwant Singh

What do old men think about? Do they have any thoughts at all? Or do they just seem perverse to others? I have always wondered why old women look motherly and nice and old men don’t. Is it because they are men at the end of the day? But it isn’t about the way they look. It is about what they think and what they say to each other. We all wonder and think about our old age and may be that is the reason I was so attracted to “The Sunset Club” by Khushwant Singh.

Let me be very honest at the onset: I had not read a single Khushwant Singh till “The Sunset Club” and partly because I had read excerpts and did not like the way he wrote. Till I read the synopsis of his latest book which revolves around a year in the lives of three eighty-year old men from different backgrounds and faiths, who gather for a chat and a walk every evening, as they watch the sun set over the Jami Masjid in Lodhi Gardens, a mosque whose dome resembles the bosom of a young woman, by sitting on the Boora Binch (the old men’s bench).

They discuss everything in that one year (the chapters speak of every month, the changing seasons and the changing views of the three men) – from sex to politics, to constipation and the infirmities of old age to love and the poets and poems of years gone by. Singh at the same time presents a different point of view in the book – it is very strong from a political perspective and it is clear that he has an opinion on almost everything and rightly so. May be that is why the book on the front page has a line underneath that states, “Analects of the year 2009”.

The book starts in January 2009 on Republic Day and ends exactly a year after – 26th of January 2010. I loved the way Mr. Singh presented his view on non-violence and it appears as the book begins:

You may well ask why India, which prides itself as the land of Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence, celebrates the national day with such a display of lethal arms and fighting prowess. The truth is, we Indians are full of contradictions: we preach peace to the world and prepare for war.”

The three men at the heart of the book are Boota Singh (My personally opinion is that he is based on the author or a clever stand-in) – the self-confessed agnostic who still believes in God. Pandit Preetam Sharma – a Hindu in every single way and an Oxford graduate at that, being a former education minister, ironically is the most ignorant of the three and finally we are introduced to Nawab Barkatullah Dehlavi, who is a Pathan and is in good shape even in this age. He is a well-to-do man with a rich inheritance and has nothing to worry about.

I loved reading the book except for the illness bits – I was scared and was wondering what would happen to me when I reached that age. It is not a big book; however it is big when it comes to ideas and opinions. It is a light read and unpretentious. Mr. Singh touches on like I said almost everything that happened in 2009 – right from Babri Masjid verdict to the 377 act being not recognized through the eyes and ears of his three protagonists.

The Sunset Club; Singh, Khushwant; Penguin Viking; Penguin India; Rs. 399