When Gandhi ji played cricket

New Delhi: Those familiar with Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography will know that as a school boy Bapu was averse to all forms of physical exercises.

But, little is known about his fascination for cricket.

A new book ‘Mahatma on the Pitch: Gandhi & Cricket in India’ talks about how the father of the nation enjoyed and embraced the British sport, which went on to become intrinsic to the national fabric of India.

Written by Kausik Bandyopadhyay, the book comments on the cricketing brawn and brain of the Mahatma, who, in the words a childhood friend, was “not only a cricket enthusiast, but wielded the willow too”.

According to Gandhi’s highschool mate Ratilal Ghelabhai Mehta, who has been quoted in the book, the political leader was a “dashing cricketer”.

“Many a time we played cricket together, and I remember that he was good at batting and bowling, though he had an aversion to physical exercises at school,” Mehta said.

The book features another interesting account, where Mehta talks about Gandhi’s “cricketing calibre”.

“Once we were watching a cricket match together. In those days, there were ding-dong battles between teams of Rajkot city and Rajkot Sadar (camp area).

“At a crucial moment in the match, as if through intuition, Gandhiji said that a particular player would be out and, hey presto! That batsman was really out,” Mehta said.

The book begins with Gandhi’s pursuit of the sport as a young boy and goes on to chronicle cricket’s evolution in India.

But, Bandyopadhyay points out that the real occasions of Gandhi’s encounters with cricket were very rare, particularly beyond his school days.

However, the connections in terms of reciprocal impact were more intimate, the author writes in the book.

“This was because politics and sports go hand in hand in modern India. The points of convergence and conflict between Gandhi and cricket, therefore, merit attention and exploration,” Bandyopadhyay said.

He said the book is an attempt to identify these points of convergence and conflict through intriguing questions like: Did Gandhi ever play cricket? Did cricket ever figure in the Gandhian world of thought? What views did the most important man in the history of India’s freedom struggle have on the game that dominates Indian national consciousness in the twenty-first century?

Published by Rupa, the yet-to-be released book further navigates twists at Gandhi’s most significant comment on cricket against the “communal” Bombay Pentangular tournament in 1940. PTI