India Insight

Piecing together the ‘Great Tamasha’ of Indian cricket

The Great Tamasha” is a book about cricket, but it is also a tale about the rapid rise of modern India and the corruption that plagues it. A series of scandals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the glitzy Twenty20 tournament run by the country’s cricket board, got James Astill hooked to the game in India. What followed was the 40-year-old journalist’s first book – an account of India’s rich cricketing tradition, politics, religion and the emergence of the cash-rich IPL.

Astill takes the reader from the slums of Mumbai to a village in north India, places where cricket is as much tamasha (spectacle) as it is religion. Bollywood stars, business tycoons and cricketers, both past and present, feature in “The Great Tamasha”. So does Lalit Modi, a former IPL chairman, now an outcast in India’s cricketing circles.

Astill spoke to India Insight about his book, cricket and its celebrity culture. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: Why “Tamasha,” which can mean “spectacle,” “commotion” or a tempest in a teapot?
A: The idea of spectacle and entertainment or theatricality in public life, sometimes chaotically, sometimes premeditatedly… It’s that coincidence of meaning that I wanted.

Q: “Tamasha” is being increasingly used in a negative sense in India.
A: The fact that it is used pejoratively is nonetheless something I wanted to capture. As you say, Indians speak of the IPL, speak of goings-on in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) dismissively as just tamasha — not serious cricket, not serious politics. I wanted that attitude also to be contained in the meaning, in the title, but that’s not necessarily my view.

In Dada, Yuvraj finds a way to use his unutilised hair gel

Yuvraj Singh has finally found a way to make sure the hair gel lying unused in his cupboard is not completely wasted.

The Punjab cricketer, known for experimenting with hairdos, has gone completely bald following chemotherapy sessions in his battle against cancer.

In his absence, Yuvraj’s former India captain Sourav Ganguly is leading Pune in this year’s Indian Premier League and the 39-year-old provided what could be the lasting memory of IPL5 after castling Delhi’s Kevin Pietersen at Ferozeshah Kotla on April 21.

Sari-clad cheerleaders add Indian touch to IPL franchise

The upcoming session of the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s glamour-packed cricket tournament, will see a sartorial anomaly come to life — cheerleaders wrapped in saris.

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, has decided to cover their cheerleaders in one of the most traditional Indian outfits — a marked departure from their 2008 wardrobe when a lot of skin, from midriff to thighs, was on display.

All these sari-clad cheerleaders would be “local hires” and will dance to classical Bengali music in between boundaries and fall of wickets. The team management is of the opinion this will help connect with Bengali cricket fans and improve ticket sales.

IPL Kochi on its way out?

A policeman stands guard at one of the entrances to a cricket stadium during a match in the IPL tournament in Kolkata April 19, 2010. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal/Files
It’s intriguing arithmetic. After adding two new franchises to its stable, the Indian Premier League now runs the serious risk of going into its fourth edition with seven cricket teams, one less than the original eight.

In that March 21 news conference in Chennai, Lalit Modi, still one month away from a dramatic dumping, was doing what he does best — reeling off mindboggling numbers.

Modi welcomed Pune and Kochi on board and waxed eloquent on how recession-proof the cash-awash league was.

India’s ‘Watergate’ rocks ruling Congress coalition

The Congress-led government, under scrutiny in the wake of allegations of financial irregularities in a multi-billion cricketing tournament, has now come under fire from the opposition over accusations it tapped phones of senior leaders.

Women activists of India's Samajwadi Party shout slogans after being detained by police during a protest against rising inflation in Allahabad April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jitendra PrakashA united opposition demanded a joint parliamentary committee to look into these allegations, ruled out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is in Bhutan attending a summit of South Asian leaders.

Last week, a magazine report said mobile phone conversations of senior politicians were tapped, sparking allegations intelligence agencies were being used to spy on political rivals.

Will democratisation help clean up gentleman’s game?

It started with a Twitter post and promptly snowballed into accusations of funding irregularities, corruption and misuse of power. Almost hard to believe it’s cricket that is being discussed here.

Cricket has always attracted controversy because of the large amount of money and sponsorships it involves unlike any other game.

A policeman stands guard at one of the entrances to a cricket stadium during a match in IPL tournament in Kolkata April 19, 2010. Indian authorities have begun an investigation into the financing of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the finance minister said on Monday, following allegations of corruption in the world's richest cricket tournament. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal As the game changed its format over the years, the scale and proportion of the scandals grew accordingly.