This is the text of my speech at the Wisden India launch.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I’d like you to bear with you in case I slip up. I’m so used to being on the other side of the microphone, asking questions. This is very much a new experience.
With that out of the way, I shall endeavour to explain to you why Wisden India will make a difference. To do that, I’ll ask you two questions.
First, why does cricket, or any other sport, matter? I’ve read many reasons. Some say sport is life in miniature. I don’t disagree. But if you think about it, so is cinema. The best definition I’ve come across is from the title of a book on football. The Faith of Our Fathers.
Think about it. How did we come to love this game? Speaking for myself, I saw my first Test match on TV when I was eight. My mother was the one who watched with me. It was the Lord’s Test of 1982 and though India lost, I was captivated by the flamboyance with which Kapil Dev batted and bowled.
The bulk of my cricket education, if one can call it that, came from my maternal grandfather. As a 19-year-old student in Madras as it was then, he watched Douglas Jardine’s England team take on CK Nayudu’s Indians. His love for the game never dimmed. At the age of 83, after he’d fractured his leg for the third time, he insisted on the television being shifted to his room so that he could watch India play in the Caribbean. I never saw him more upset than the night when India failed to chase 120 for victory in Barbados.
Each of us has such a story. And those stories matter because they’re the foundation of our faith.
My second question is this: What makes a sport? The players are at the centre of the sporting universe, because they’re the ones that make our dreams reality. The other indispensable element is the fan. Everyone else, whether it’s the administrators or the media, gets something out of sport. Those that invest financially usually get their rewards. But what of emotional investment?
I came across a couple of boys in Nagpur just before the India-South Africa World Cup game. They’d travelled 10 hours by train in an unreserved compartment to get there. They had no hotel room. They had freshened up and had a quick bite at the railway station and once the match was over, they had to head back to Mumbai the same way.
Passion is the most abused word in sport. But travel around India when cricket is played, and you can still feel it…people who get nothing tangible from the game, but give so much of themselves to it.
At Wisden India, we intend to listen to those fans because we believe they matter. When you support a Manchester United or a Barcelona, you get something back. In Barcelona’s case, the supporters are stakeholders in the club. Can we honestly say that Indian cricket looks after its fans, that the stadium experience is good enough for them to keep going back? It’s all too easy to sit in an air-conditioned press-box and criticise low turn-out. But what are we doing about it? We treat fans as caricatures, as over-emotional effigy-burners. But there are millions who are not. Wisden India will give them a space to express their views and concerns.
It’s not just fans either. We are prepared to work with everyone who has a stake in cricket. I emphasis the word ‘with’, because we will not work ‘for’ anyone. Independence has always been the hallmark of the Wisden imprint and that will not change when it comes to India. We will stand up for what we feel is right, but we will not push the agendas of those with vested interests. Wisden India will be true to the game, to its players and the fans whose support makes all of this possible. We believe that nothing else matters.