Michael Sexton, author of Border’s Battlers, shares his experiences from Asia’s largest sports literature festival held in December 2019.
I recently visited Delhi for the Ekamra Sports Literature Festival, where I joined my international peers in sports writing to celebrate the act of writing about the games people play, and why they matter.
The festival is curated by Arup Ghosh, CEO of India’s Network 1 Media, who aims to amalgamate the subcontinent’s passion for sport and literature. His inspiring program brought together sports writers and sports stars from across the country and beyond, provoking discussions that were broadcast across India and internationally.
I was delighted to be invited to speak with WV Raman, the Indian Women’s coach and former Indian team opener, about my recent book Border’s Battlers, the story of the famous 1986 tied Test match between India and Australia played at Madras.
Moments before the session started, a familiar albeit frail figure emerged. It was V Vikramraju – the umpire of the historic match whose decision to give Maninder Singh out, on the second to last ball, sealed the second-ever tied Test match ever. His umpiring partner from the Madras Test, Dara Dotiwala, has recently passed.
Now aged 85, Vikramraju spoke assuredly about the match and how he has never wavered in his belief that he made the correct decision. ‘People had often questioned Indian umpires in the past, but they could never question [me] after that,’ he explained, suggesting he resisted pressure for a hometown decision. But Vikramraju’s decision was controversial, and it is often noted that he never umpired another Test match.
The exact moment of Vikramraju’s call is captured brilliantly in a photograph by Mala Mukerjee: Vikramraju’s finger points to the sky like a bayonet attached to his rifle arm. Around him the emotional spectrum is played out with cricketers celebrating, pleading, disregarding, or gawping in disbelief.
Thirty-three years ago, this was a split-second decision in the heat of a sporting contest. Today, it is recognised in sporting history. It was the obvious photo for the cover of my book and it was a lovely moment to hand a copy to Vikramraju, who hugged it to his chest and nodded his head in respect.
Michael Sexton with V Vikramraju and WV Raman at the Ekamra Sports Literature Festival
The Madras Test is one of the many historic sporting events that has been captured in sports literature, and the Ekamra Sports Literature Festival provides a welcome platform for writers and athletes to share stories and perspectives about defining moments in sports history.
Tim Wigmore from London’s Daily Telegraph and World Cup bowler Joginder Sharma spoke about T20 cricket and its increasing sophistication from a sideshow to mainstream format.
Former Indian Hockey Captain Dilip Tirkey and 1983 Cricket World Cup winner Kirti Azad discussed their mutual experiences as athletes-turned-politicians. ‘In sports you know where your enemies are and where they are coming from, but in politics you don’t know when the beamer is coming from,’ laughed Azad.
Olympic sprinter Dutee Chand talked with journalist Samip Rajguru about the implications of her decision to come out as being in a same-sex relationship after India’s Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2018.
Karunya Keshav described the inspiration for her book The Fire Burns Blue, a history of women’s cricket in India. ‘So many women were motivated by grandmothers. They told them as girls to “Go and do something – go and play cricket”,’ she said.
Davis Cup Captain Rohit Rajpal, in conversation with novelist Prajwal Hegde, reflected on the emotional and mental aftermath of retirement. A sense of not feeling important or worthy anymore is common – something confirmed by former England spinner Monty Panesar, who fought his mental health battles privately while trying to maintain the public persona that was expected of him. Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley shared some of the physical, legal and emotional struggles she went through as a pioneering transgender athlete.
The award-winning author Shehan Karunatilaka, whose novel Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew uses cricket to unpack Sri Lankan society, spoke of the advice he received from his wife when he was writing the book. ‘People who watch cricket don’t read and people who read don’t watch cricket,’ she told him.
Happily, he ignored her.