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Cricket nostalgia, political nods — Sehwag & Tharoor’s jokes liven up cricket book launch

That cricket brings India together is not a cliché was proved once again Wednesday evening at Delhi’s India International Centre in more ways than one. And the biggest proof was the presence of two political rivals inside the same room, barely four kilometres away from Parliament where their parties stand in a logjam—while Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was on stage, BJP MP Jyotiraditya Scindia sat among the audience somewhere in the middle row, listening intently to his cricket tales. The occasion was the launch of cricket administrator Amrit Mathur’s book Pitchside—My Life in Indian Cricket.

Such was the attendance that Scindia, a sitting minister, who was 20 minutes late, had to stand for the first few minutes in a packed house as Mathur, moderator and sports producer Joy Bhattacharjya, ace India batter Virender Sehwag and Tharoor indulged in an entertaining chat that kept the audiences glued over the next hour or so. And it was no ordinary audience—from former players Kirti Azad, Sunil Valson and Mohammad Kaif to former R&AW chief AS Dulat and former Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar. “It almost feels like a film star launching the book because this is the kind of audience that you normally get for them,” said Bhattacharjya. Though Scindia was offered a seat at the front later on, he preferred to stay camouflaged in the portion of the hall where the crowd had swelled, at a safe distance from Tharoor.

Mathur, who was two years Tharoor’s junior at St Stephen’s College was quick to acknowledge the role former Congress leader Madhav Rao Scindia played in his career. Looking at Jyotiradiya sitting among the audience, he thanked the BJP leader’s father: “It happened because of Madhavrao Scindia, he was the railway minister, I was an officer. He gave me a role that brought me to the BCCI. I consider myself lucky that he found me worthy of the task.”

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‘Nothing controversial’

The author ran the audience through the book, giving glimpses of the content — Sachin’s preferred seat on the team bus, Tiger Pataudi’s dislike for public appearances. He admitted to having left out many things, for the publisher reminded him he was not writing a telephone directory. That brought a fresh round of laughter among the audience and it kept returning every few minutes as the discussion progressed. Pitchside is an inside account of a cricket administrator who was with the Indian team for over two decades in various capacities and was later part of the IPL’s Delhi team. It’s a collection of behind-the-scenes anecdotes but “nothing controversial” as Tharoor described.

Whenever the mic reached Tharoor, he made sure the audience remained entertained, often taking them back to his St Stephen’s days. “As a child, I wanted to play cricket very badly and that’s exactly what I did when I grew up, I played cricket very badly.”

The Congress leader also shared a fascinating tale of how an opinionated article he wrote about Sunil Gavaskar — the headline for which read ‘Is Sunil Gavaskar the worst captain India has had?’ — put him in a difficult position when years later, he came face-to-face with the master batsman at a party in Kolkata on the terrace of then editor of The Telegraph MJ Akbar.

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Drawing-room conversation 

Midway through the talk, Mathur walked into the audience to present Scindia with the very first copy of the book as a mark of respect for his father Madhavrao Scindia. A generally chirpy Sehwag did not speak for the first half of the session, the audience had to wait for his one-liners and punches a little longer.

But once the mic reached the former Delhi Daredevils captain, it was a laugh riot inside the Kamaladevi Hall at IIC. “In 2002, he (Mathur) joined the team as the manager. When I first saw him with Rajeev Shukla, I thought of the Chacha Chaudhary-Sabu duo,” he said when asked about how he first met the author.

The former India opener was at his candid best narrating an incident when he was roughed up by former coach John Wright inside the dressing room and how it was team manager Rajeev Shukla who came to his rescue. “BCCI managers have a lot of power, they can destroy anyone’s career,” Sehwag said jokingly about the incident.

The audiences also got to revisit the iconic moments of the 2002 NatWest trophy finals and listen to Sehwag’s hilarious take on why Sourav Ganguly took off his T-Shirt in the Lord’s balcony. “Dada (Ganguly) was looking for a vest advertisement, he removed his shirt that day so that prospective sponsors could get the cue.”

It’s here that the conversations went off the stage and into the audience where Kaif who had just walked into the packed hall and was waiting in a corner joined in. With Kaif engaging the author from the audience’s section, it soon felt like a drawing-room conversation.

When asked about a brilliant catch that he took in Karachi, Kaif said, “There are so many people sitting here, I won’t lie, such was the passion to play for India that even if a ball was only two inches above the ground, I would go for it, that catch was good 40-feet high in the air.” What followed was a huge round of applause praising his spirit and bravery.

The evening ended with a bouncer though, when a member of the audience asked Mathur to comment on the 1999-2000 Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal. That almost seemed like an out-of-syllabus question for those occupying the stage. “Are baap re,” came the voice somewhere from the reserved rows in the front.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

Source: The Print

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