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Avid fan captures fever pitch of Indian cricket; BOOK REVIEW You Must Like Cricket: Memoirs of an Indian Cricket Fan By Soumya Bhattacharya Yellow Jersey Press price: pounds 7.19 (40 per cent off rrp).

Byline: Peter Sharkey

It's been a good week for cricket's burgeoning popularity, although we have some way to go before we reach the levels of enthusiasm for the game regularly seen on the sub-continent.

For example, one of the many revelations in this wonderful homage to Indian cricket is that when Sachin Tendulkar bats against Pakistan, the television audience in India exceeds the entire population of Europe!

Bhattacharya was born in England but moved to Kolkota at the age of six. He returned to England in the early 1990s and it is his experience of Anglo Saxon and Indian cultures that serve him well in this colourful study of what cricket means to Indians.

A chance meeting early in the story with Martin Amis reveals his literary pretensions and William Shakespeare, Salman Rushdie, Neville Cardus and Tim Parks are frequently name-checked but it is Nick Hornby's seminal work on football, Fever Pitch, that You Must Like Cricket most closely resembles.

Central to Hornby's tale is their completely unexpected 2-0 victory at Anfield in 1989 which gave Arsenal the League Championship' central to Bhattacharya's book is India's no less remarkable defeat of the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final.

The parallels abound. While Hornby idolises the more fragile of the Arsenal team and mistrusts the multi-talented, Bhattacharya's hero is Gun-dappa Viswanath, a man capable of both glorious cover drives and airy-fairy wafts outside the off stump' Sunil Gavaskar, meanwhile, India's premier run-getter of all time, is berated for his slow scoring.

Prior to 1983, cricket was popular in India, but the national team was little more than a collection of individuals from a variety of disparate provinces who occasionally won a cricket match.

The 1983 World Cup instilled India's cricket team with a belief that they could beat the best in the world on a regular basis and a symbol of nationhood was born. This belief was cemented by the appearance of a succession of great players including Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid.

Although the fervour for the sport in India has a quasi-religious feel to it, Bhattacharya is careful not to confuse the two: "Cricket is not like a religion in India but if there is something - hypothetically -that makes the nation one, that thing ought to be likened to cricket."

In the first of two exceptional chapters, he looks at the history of India versus Pakistan, revealing the intensity and passion of a rivalry which regularly spills over into chaotic violence.

The author deplores the behaviour of his countrymen: "We have convinced ourselves that the game is important because it stands for something else," he says, "but cricket isn't like anything else' it is only cricket."

Perhaps the most evocative of this compelling book's chapters is a gripping and atmospheric description of what it is like to watch a Test or one-day international at Eden Gardens, the author's spiritual home.

The quest for a ticket, the swarming queues of people and the claustrophobic seating arrangements are offered in an uncompromising style which permit the reader to imagine he's actually there.

Although these are the high points of Bhattacharya's tale, there is much more to savour in a rollicking read of a life absorbed by the great game in a place inhabited by its most fanatical followers.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 12, 2006
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