David Frith's seminal work
If, like me, your early memories of cricket were aural — and if you, like me, are on the wrong side of 50 — the name Berry Sarbhadikary will set up a peal of nostalgic bells.
When I read, in late 1976, that he had jumped out of the window of his room in a south Bombay lodge, it was Sunil Gavaskar’s seminal tour of the West Indies in 1971 that came immediately to mind. Berry broadcast that series for All India Radio; it was through his cultured voice and crisp diction — a welcome departure from AIR’s otherwise cliche-riddled, excitable commentary team — that I followed that five-Test series with its remarkable performances [the batting of Gavaskar and Sardesai, the rear-guard actions of Eknath Solkar; the bowling of the spin troika; the historic win at Port of Spain…].
Berry’s story is just one of hundreds involving players — ranging from the obscure to the immediately recognizable — and commentators/reporters/administrators that David Frith chronicled in his book on cricket and its suicidal tensions and pressures; if you don’t already have it in your collection, go stand in line for a copy.
In the latest issue of Outlook Frith revisits the topic of that book, and its follow-up By His Own Hand:
An experienced cricketer at least has reflections of his successful days to comfort him for the rest of his life. But what of the young man who craves success but is denied it either by a shortage of talent or nervous cohesion or—far worse—by a perceived unfair exclusion by ignorant or deliberately biased selectors? All that fame and fortune and travel and television exposure snatched away by some posturing official? Frustration is a damaging force.
My researches took an unexpected turn recently when items began to filter through from India, whose cricketers had scarcely featured in my two books. (The burden of suicide among cricket folk had seemed to fall almost exclusively upon Anglo-Saxon men.) First came stories of cricket fanatics on the subcontinent harming themselves—sometimes fatally—because their team lost some match. Then came stories of youngsters in India who craved the fame and fortune that cricket now offers. With someone blocking their paths, life suddenly seemed scarcely worth living. It is an alarming direction, pointing to parallels with Hollywood, where so many unsuccessful actresses and actors have destroyed themselves when careers faltered. Like so many tyro cricketers, they simply wanted to be stars.
Modern razzmatazz has much to answer for. To fail to get to the top in cricket today, especially in India it seems, leaves some youngsters with shattered dreams of fame and fortune. In years gone by a boy would calmly have been aiming just for the honour of playing for his country, with its pleasant travel opportunities. Nobody got rich from playing.Now it’s big business, gaudy glamour. As in the wider world, there are manipulators and dodgy dealers—and broken hearts.
Frith’s piece is a companion to Rohit Mahajan’s cover story on the pressures of contemporary cricket, and the growing number of cricketers who, unable to handle the pressures, the expectations and the disappointments, lose their equilibrium. Outlook has also got Maninder Singh to speak to the subject [other possibles from relatively recent times include Sadanand Viswanath, the best Indian wicket-keeper I’ve seen since the days of Engineer and Kunderan, and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, who long before the entry onto the world stage of Shane Warne threatened to make the leg spinner’s art glamorous].
Before leaving you to your reading, a quick hark-back to Frith’s book — which on the back of a meticulous chronicling of cricketing tragedies concludes that it is not the game itself that is responsible, so much as off the field pressures. This is how Frith ends the book:
Cricket fanatics sometimes have their enthusiasm dented by the oh-so-resigned and po-faced dictum, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’. So, as a final thought-link to the theme, let us draw from someone who may never have heard of this all-consuming game — the French-Algerian existentialist writer Albert Camus, 1957 Nobel Prize winner and sometime soccer goalkeeper, who perished in a car crash in 1960. Camus claimed: ‘Suicide is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art.’
At most levels of the game we may now be enduring an abstract, violent, noisy, money-grabbing age. But cricket is an art, is it not? Who would deny that it too lies in the silence of the heart, emerging to enchant, to torment, to consume?
The founding editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly wrote those words — ‘violent, noisy, money-grabbing age’ — in 2001. Outlook’s cover story brings urgent currency to the theme. Read. Comment.
PS: Slightly off the ball, consider the case of growing incidence of suicides in another field where fame and money seek out the very young: reality TV.