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Pankaj — Bengal’s Forgotten Cricket Legend: a review

Pankaj
The biography of Pankaj Roy (above) by Gautam Bhattacharya. Photo Courtesy: Flipkart

Reputed journalist Gautam Bhattacharya has come up with a biography of Pankaj Roy, an oft-forgotten hero of Bengal cricket. Abhishek Mukherjee reviews the effort.

When Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid had fallen three short of the world record opening stand of 413 put up by Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad, the former was approached by a journalist. When Sehwag was asked how he felt regarding missing out on the world record, he had replied that he had never heard of either.

Sehwag’s case was perhaps a rare one among cricketers and fans, but it probably had to do with the lack of books on Indian cricketers as well. While Sudhir Vaidya had come up with a book on Mankad, there had been no book on Roy. Then Gautam Bhattacharya stepped in.

Bhattacharya had originally written the book in Bengali before Supernova Publishers decided to translate it. Despite the success of Sach (Bhattacharya’s semi-biography of Sachin Tendulkar), Pankaj was not expected to be a super-hit. Researches on former Indian cricketers and those on the history of the sport in the country generally go unnoticed.

The book starts off with a photograph of Roy with The Father of Bengal Cricket as the caption, an unofficial title that one usually associates with the likes of Sarada Ranjan Ray, or at least Kartick Bose. The caption seemed a bit odd, since Bengal cricket goes back way before Pankaj Roy. Bhattacharya had also referred to Roy as “The WG Grace of Bengal” — a phrase reserved for Grace’s doppelganger, Sarada Ranjan.

 The book also ends by mentioning Roy as one of India’s top four openers (Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Merchant, Virender Sehwag, and Navjot Sidhu), which is somewhat of an exaggeration. For all his runs under pressure, Roy’s average as an opener read 31.71, which was nowhere close to the those of Gautam Gambhir, Vinoo Mankad, or Ravi Shastri, not to speak of Rahul Dravid.

With a foreword by Sourav Ganguly, who has acknowledged Pankaj­-da as his hero, the book had taken off on a high note. Pankaj Roy is certainly not one of the most-researched people (had he not been a part of the 413 the contemporary generation would probably not have heard of them either). It also includes a heartfelt epilogue from Pranab — himself a Test cricketer — at the end.

Bhattacharya does justice to Roy’s legacy. His research goes past scorecards and the usual statistics; he had put in honest effort in unearthing facts from the many interviews he had conducted, and the effort shows. He has gone lengths to research on history of the Roys. The book is non-linear (which is not the usual norm for most biographies) in narration, and includes plenty of long-lost anecdotes; unfortunately, Soma Das’s translation has not been gripping enough to keep the readers interested.

Barring Pankaj (and the expat Dilip Doshi), Bengal cricket typically offered promising players with short international careers: none of Probir Sen, Shute Banerjee, Putu Chowdhury, Mantu Banerjee, Subrata Guha, Pankaj’s nephew Ambar and son Pranab, are remembered; domestic cricketers are seldom remembered unless you were a Padmakar Shivalkar or a Rajinder Goel or an Amol Muzumdar.

Being less-remembered has also led to little documented information about them; Bhattacharya has helped unearth the careers of Pankaj, along with the other two Roys: the step is certainly a commendable one, especially for the sake of followers of Bengal cricket. Wading through myths one hears from the maidan of Kolkata (especially Sporting Union) to unearth facts is certainly impressive.

Bhattacharya also provides an excellent narration from Roy’s iconic dual hundreds against a rampant Roy Gilchrist — one of the most-discussed duels in the history of Eden Gardens — in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal of 1962-63. He seems biased at times, especially, while defending Roy’s horrid run in England in 1952 against Fred Trueman, but he does not overdo things.

There are moments when the author tends to deviate from the topic, especially by making references to Ganguly’s career that often turn out to be unnecessary to the context of the book. There have also been instances where the book has relied on quotes and emotions more than numbers. But despite that the book has been an appreciable research-work — something that Indian cricket historians have seldom done.

What mars the book, however, are the glaring errors in the book that devalue it and make one question its credibility. Even if one ignores the sacrilege of misspelling CK Nayudu’s surname as Naidu, the book mentions Ajit Wadekar as India’s oldest debutant; Wadekar had made his debut at 25, while there have been 28 Indians who had made their debuts on the wrong side of 30 when the book was written.

There are several others as well. India had four captains, for example, in the 1958-59 home series of musical chairs, not five. This, however, is not a fault-finding mission, but one cannot ignore the fact that there have been errors — and plenty of them.

All in all, Pankaj is a good attempt that one would expect other Indian cricket historians to follow. Despite the honest effort, however, factual errors have ruined the quality of research that has gone into the book. Biographies demand accuracy as far as facts and figures are concerned, and this is where Pankaj misses out, not to speak of the monotone of the translation.

It could have been a path-breaking book otherwise.

Pankaj — Bengal’s Forgotten Cricket Legend

Written by Gautam Bhattacharya

Edited and conceptualised by Pranab Roy

Translated by Soma Das

Supernova Publishers

300 pages

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)

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