The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India by Sidhanta Patnaik & Karunya Keshav
At the Women’s World Cup Final between England and India in July 2017, we were privileged to share the press box with three wonderful colleagues from India, two of whom have now collaborated on a new book recounting the history of women’s cricket in India, from the founding of the first modern teams in the early 70s, through to that dramatic day at Lord’s.
The story they tell begins, like the finest post-modern novel, near the end – with Harmanpreet’s remarkable 171 not out in the semi-final against Australia – before, with little pause for breath, we are whisked back nearly 50 years to the founding of the Women’s Cricket Association of India by a group of girls who, long before Cyndi Lauper, just wanted to have fun.
Sidhanta and Karunya proceed to take us on a 500-page journey – from the early days of travel by second-class train ticket, playing at third-class grounds in front of a handful of spectators; to flying business class to compete at global tournaments, cheered on by a TV audience of millions.
The tale is engagingly told through the eyes of the key protagonists – the players and administrators – many of whose stories are set down here on record for perhaps the first time. The borrowed bats and the dormitory pranks are one thing; but the authors don’t shy away from the more difficult issues, such as how one deals with one’s period in the middle of a vital match.
It is a book for the reader, rather than the statistician or the academic historian – matches are recounted more by a shot remembered here, or a ball recalled there, rather than with the clinical details of a traditional report. Sometimes reading a cricket book can feel like a drowning by numbers, but this book takes a more anecdotal – more human – approach; and is all the better for it.
Controversies, such as the 1986 tour to England, when a diplomatic incident was created as India slowed their rate to a 7-overs-an-hour crawl in pursuit of a draw in the first Test, are dealt with in a balanced manner – and notably more equitably than they have been in English print, where the Indians have been accused of “[playing] the diva card to new extremes” to quote just one example!
If there is one small criticism it might be that the writers are a little too ready to believe the propaganda of the other boards – particularly Cricket Australia and the ECB – that things are so much greener on the other side of the fence, compared to the privations endured over the years by the Indians – we have to tell you, they really aren’t!
English readers should also prepare themselves for a fair smattering of Hindi – it is (loosely) translated in-line, but it can be hard work nonetheless.
Overall though, The Fire Burns Blue remains a thoroughly affable read which deserves a place under your Christmas tree this season.