Book Review | A lively, intimate record of an epic cricket series

The Asian Age.  | Soumya Bhattacharya

Cover photo of 'The Miracle Makers: Indian Cricket’s Greatest Epic' by Bharat Sundaresan with Gaurav Joshi

Cover photo of 'The Miracle Makers: Indian Cricket’s Greatest Epic' by Bharat Sundaresan with Gaurav Joshi. (Photo by arrangement)

Watching India versus Australia Test matches played in Australia is always a thrilling prospect. Play starts at 5.30 am. I go to sleep the night before in anticipation, the TV remote on my bedside table. I start my day with the game, my mind uncluttered. Wake up and smell the coffee? No, wake up and watch the cricket. It has a touch of the transgressive.

The 2020-21 Test series in Australia was even more thrilling for all sorts of reasons. India were humiliated in the first Test in Adelaide, collapsing to 36 all out in the second innings, their lowest ever score in a Test. Their captain, Virat Kohli, left Australia after that first Test because his wife was expecting their first child. Player after first-team player succumbed to injury. But India pulled off one of their greatest victories to level the series in the second Test at Melbourne. They drew the third Test at Sydney: a valiant effort of will and obdurateness as Hanuma Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin batted through their respective pain barriers on the final day.

Then came the final Test at the Gabba in Brisbane. Australia had not lost at that venue for 35 years. India were without their best batsman; they were led by a stand-in captain; they were without their four first-choice fast bowlers; they were without their two best spinners; and they fielded a bowling attack that had taken 11 Test wickets  between them and had an experience of four Tests between the five of them.

India won the Brisbane Test, and the series. It was one of India’s greatest ever Test victories.

The Miracle Makers: Indian Cricket’s Greatest Epic returns us to those magnificent months of cricket, from the desperate, abysmal, barely explicable low of Adelaide to the dizzying, pulsating, almost equally barely explicable high of Brisbane.  Bharat Sundaresan and Gaurav Joshi have unique access to the players, the dressing room and the coaching and support staff. The action behind the scenes – to which we, as fans, were not privy – is almost as engrossing as what unfolded on the pitch.

What gives the book a special edge is the fact that the series was played in the shadow of the pandemic. It is fascinating to learn about the nature of the hard bubbles in which the team had to live, the numerous restrictions and discomfort they had to face, the intricacies of training and net practice, the complex logistical decisions taken by the team – and, indeed, the authors – to travel from city to city and hotel to stadium.

The prose is less in the manner of literary non-fiction than daily newspaper and website reporting. There are infelicitous locutions, cliches, and lazy repetitions. The phrase ‘on board’ (itself an example of clunky corporatespeak) crops up thrice in two consecutive pages. The series is described as ‘surreal’ (it wasn’t; it was all too real). Instead of talking to each other, people are always in each other’s ear.

The tour book is notoriously difficult to write. Its raw material has – for the most part – already been published. Readers know the contours and denouement of the narrative. It is not easy to transcend all that and make literature out of it. Gideon Haigh’s Ashes 2005 and Rahul Bhattacharya’s Pundits from Pakistan are notable contemporary exceptions in the genre.

Still, The Miracle Makers is a lively record of a sensational cricket series. For that, we should be thankful.

The Miracle Makers: Indian Cricket’s Greatest Epic

By Bharat Sundaresan with Gaurav Joshi


pp. 213, Rs.399