‘Dhoni speaking on controversies is special about Democracy’s XI’

Democracy’s XI: A Great Indian Cricket Story is an analytical insight into the evolution of Indian cricket through the legends who have been and are an integral part of this epochal journey. Author Rajdeep Sardesai, a face of political broadcast journalism with deep cricketing connect, describes India’s cricketing journey – not in terms of stats and records, but evolution – through the experiences of Dilip Sardesai, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Bishan Singh Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli – that is his XI.

V Kumar speaks to the author for insidesport.co. Here are the excerpts:

V Kumar: Tell us your experience regarding writing this book because you have always been a TV journalist, how this idea struck?

Rajdeep Sardesai: I always had a passion for cricket. I’ve played the bit of the game, was passionate about it, and it runs in the family. So, I thought it was important in a way to put down those memories, particularly from my generation and try and connect that to the India of today. It gave me an opportunity to indulge my passion. I’ve always believed that cricket deserves more writing and a greater attempt at sort of locating the game within this, within our cultural milieu. It is such an obsessive game for so many people. I just thought it was important that someone who had that ring side view should write about the Game.

VK: Was it easier for you to access all these players as you are a great cricketer’s son and a famous journalist as well?

RS: I think it was easy. You know how difficult it is today to get access to players! The fact that I was my father’s son maybe helped. The fact that I was a journalist maybe helped. However, I would like to believe that many of our cricketers, particularly the older generation, are accessible. The problem comes with the youngsters. They are not at all easily accessible. I got lucky in the sense that it took me six months to get Kohli of constant whatsapping and contacting him and it took me almost a year to get Dhoni. You persist and you get your rewards.

VK: Getting Dhoni on record and the kind of the information he has shared make the book special? Your thoughts of Dhoni and Kohli?

RS: In particular, to get Dhoni speak about the things I don’t think are really spoken now was special.  We are talking, going back to the 2011 World Cup. To get Dhoni on record, to speak about the issues of our times, to speak about controversies in a very open manner was special, indeed. It is important to understand the mind behind this sort of icon of our times. Dhoni will go down in history as one of the greatest ever cricketers but we know so little about him. This book gives people who don’t know Dhoni a sense about Dhoni the man and his thoughts.

VK: People are saying there is a  shade or two of Beyond the Boundary by CLR James. Do you find this comparison a bit odd?

RS: Any comparison with Beyond the Boundary, I will take it as the greatest compliment of my life. However, it is nowhere in the same. That was a sociology. You know he (James) is a great historian and sociologist. I am basically an observer of the game. I have tried to bring connections between politics and cricket and I guess it’s one of the strengths. Some say the weakness that I could have explored cricket more. My first innings was politics, cricket was the second innings, now I have to get ready for the third, again take guard.

VK: There has been sort of a criticism that your choice of players does not typically represent democracy. There are no dalit or women cricketers. So, there is criticism that the reality does not match your title. Maybe in future, you can think of updating (the book)?

RS: No. I can think of 11 of women cricketers. It would have been mere tokenism just to have them for the sake of having one. Even through these cricketers, I have reflected on how each of them in their own small way has been a part of the process of democratizing. This not necessarily means that you have to be a dalit. For example, my book has a fair bit on Vinod Kambli in the context of Tendulkar, but I don’t think the book needed to be about 11 dalit or 11 OBC cricketers. It needed to be about the different dimensions of the game, as reflected through these cricketers.

Nawab of Pataudi may have been a Nawab, but he played a major role in bringing people from different regions together. That was his big contribution. So democracy is not just about dalits, OBCs or backward classes. It’s about different castes, communities and religions coming together. Yes, maybe in the future, one could write a book on 11 heroes. So, Solkar, Kambli, Umesh Yadav, you would think of 11 such individuals that could be a future book.

VK: The kind of book launches you had so far in the country, it is being regarded as the most high profile book. How do you look at into? What about translations into other languages?

RS: Translation has already begun. Vaani is publishing it in Hindi. It should be out sometime early next year. One chapter on Dhoni is already translated and we’ll be giving it free as an app at a literature event later this month.

About launches, these great cricketers have been very kind. For me, the moment was when Bhagwad Chandrashekhar, who was not keeping well, came limping on. He insisted he’ll drive himself to the venue. I said sir I’ll send you a car, he said no, “I’ll drive myself.”  He and Kirmani, both unwell, came. I had tears in my eyes when I saw Chandra come. He was a great friend of my father. More than that he was a legend in his time. It was just wonderful to have him on the same stage with Prasanna, Kirmani, and Dravid. These all would be strong contenders to be in best ever all-India Eleven.

VK: So, the kind of response you got will make Democracy’s Eleven the most satisfying work of your journalistic career of almost 25 years?

RS: No. I don’t think I can say that. The election book is also pretty special to me and given the fact that I was a political journalist, I think that was important for me. To write this is more about a passion. But as a labour of love, this is special too. You know it’s a more a labour of love that I’ve gone through and tried to, sort of, indulge in my passion for sports. So, it’s special.

VK: My final question Do you think there will be many more cricket books by you rather than political books?

RS: I don’t have an easy answer to that.  I don’t plan for now. I think every three years if one can come up with a reasonable book, that’s a good agenda. Three years means you rest for one year after promoting the book. Do other things. Then you get down researching in the second year and you write in the third year. So, I think if I could go by that, we’ll see maybe in 2020 we’ll write something for 2020 November.

VK: Cricket?

RS: Not necessarily. But you have given me an idea. I could write on these sort of 11 cricketers who came in from these smaller, sort of ‘towns’ of India and maybe write something on them.