27 July, 2021

Only The Fittest Shall Play

Can cricket be a leveller in India? Adiga’s eleven find it out the tough way.

Photograph by Getty Images
Only The Fittest Shall Play

Cricket is a useful prism through which to view society, as Shehan Kar­­unatilaka (Chinaman) and Jos­eph O’Neill (Netherland) have shown. In India, however, cricket fiction adopts the Bollywood rags-to-riches format. By subverting that, Selection Day casually becomes the best Indian novel on cricket. Yet, it is not a cricket novel. As with his Booker-winning The White Tiger, Adiga has a message, which means characters and situations are cut to fit.

Cricket is usually seen in India like boxing was in America: as a vehicle for social mobility and class advancement. But is it really so, asks the author. Does cricket erase caste marks or merely reinforce them?

The surface story is simple enough. Talented schoolboys Radha and Manju, pushed hard by their father, Mohan Kumar, and marked out as the future of Indian cricket, are put through their paces by coach Tommy Sir, who convinces businessman Anand Mehta to sponsor them in return for a percentage of future earnings. The mixture of boyish innocence, parental ambition...

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