Samir Chopra February 3, 2010

Memories, faithful and unfaithful

Sigmund Freud famously wrote of the impossibility of autobiography and biography

Sigmund Freud famously wrote of the impossibility of autobiography and biography. Part of the reason the good doctor thought thus was because that wonderful human facility, memory, which is often thought to be constitutive of our personalities, is also an amazingly flaky thing. To put it mildly, if you know what I mean.

As cricket fans, we are all subject to the vagaries of the art of recall. Players grow in stature; we are mysteriously present at games we never attended; statistics grow and multiply.

And in the modern internet era, we no longer need to rely on the photographic memories once needed to commit all those Wisdens and Frindalls to the insides of our craniums. And the internet can also serve to remind us of the things we get wrong.

For years, one of my favorite cricketing stories was told to me by my father. It concerned two greats of years gone by: CK Nayudu (the Colonel) and Keith Miller. Their encounter, during the Australian Services team tour of India in 1945-46, had for my father, the status of legend. In 1998, I posted an account of this story on the cricket newsgroup Some folks enjoyed it, and I certainly enjoyed telling the tale. Recently, I posted the story again on my blog, Eye-on-Cricket. There is a twist to the story that needs some tackling.

For it does not seem that the story told to me by my father and faithfully reproduced by me can possibly be true. At least, not in its statistical details. I had realised even back in 1998, that I needed scorecards to confirm its authenticity. I didn't do the needful for a very long time. Perhaps subconsciously, I resisted the moment of truth.

A quick examination of the scorecards of the Australian Services Team to tour India in 1945 shows that they played nine games. They played one game (Princes XI vs. Australian Services) in Delhi, the one that I presume my father attended. More the point, it was the only game of the tour that CK Nayudu played in (his youger, and largely overshadowed, brother CS Nayudu played for the Indian team in the Tests of the series as well as in this game). The scorecard for the Delhi game shows that Miller was bowled CS (not CK) Nayudu for 18 in the first innings; that CK Nayudu was bowled by John Pettiford for 14 in his first, and in the only second innings, Miller was caught and bowled CS Nayudu for 35.

So, something is amiss. Miller could not have hit 30 runs off CK Nayudu in either innings. CK's bowling figures (4-0-28-0 and 5-0-15-0) make that impossible. And neither did CK do that off Miller. Whatever happened that November in Delhi, it wasn't exactly like the way the story goes.

And of course, it's not clear whose memory is at fault. Did my father tell me a reasonably simple story of how perhaps Miller and Nayudu hit a six or two off each other, and I grew that little tale into an epic? Or did my father, then attending the game as a wide-eyed 10-year old schoolboy, himself embellish that tale before passing it on to me? Or was it a combination of the two?

I realised of course, that it didn't really matter in the end. Some things still stood out: the impact that those flamboyant allrounders Miller and CK Nayudu made on my father; the recall of CK Nayudu at the age of 50(!) to play the Aussies; and the fact that the two greats did have some kind of encounter. For after all, the game did take place in Delhi, and Miller and Nayudu did play in that game. That much is true. The rest is in the story and it's worth recounting.

And it's still a damn good yarn. For if nothing else, it contributed to the romance I associated with the game, and played a significant role in the attention that I paid to its history. So, if there is ever a campfire around, I'll make sure I tell the story in the form (I think) I heard it first.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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  • testli5504537 on February 5, 2010, 21:52 GMT

    A charming article about stories told, stories written, and those ripe with romance, but not necessarily all the facts. Notwithstanding errors in recounting, stories are precious as if you don't tell your story, who else will?

    I recall a friend chastising me; he said, ``You always remind me of facts; you only know facts! Why do you spoil my fun? Have you no romance in you?''

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