December 13, 2010

Made for the silver screen

From Akash Kaware, Canada

From Akash Kaware, Canada

South Africa's return to international cricket - an ideal candidate for a movie © PA Photos

Like any sane Indian, when it comes to favourite pastimes, cricket and movies are at the top of my list. The IPL has seen to it that Bollywood makes its presence felt around cricket matches. But apart from sporadic - and generally embarrassing - appearances from cricketers in movies, the vice versa is not true. Now this is not to say that cricketers should invade Bollywood (or Hollywood for that matter), but for a sport that has such a rich and long history, plenty of stories of bravery & courage, many scandals, and characters galore - all of which would lend themselves beautifully to the silver screen - cricket is grossly under-represented in the world of movies.

There are plenty of constraints that prevent movies being made about cricket. But it’s not the purpose of this article to dwell on them. I am only going to mention a few incidents/people that would make wonderful subject matter for a movie, and which I would personally love to watch on the big screen. Let us assume Hollywood knows that a sport called cricket exists and that all the best actors and directors are queuing up to make movies about it! Let us begin!

1) Bodyline: One of cricket’s biggest scandals. The devious, or brilliant - depending on your viewpoint - plan devised by Douglas Jardine, and executed to perfection by Harold Larwood to rein in the brilliance of Don Bradman. Imagine Jardine, played by the sinister-looking Ralph Fiennes, yelling, “I’ve got it! He’s yellow!” after noticing Bradman’s discomfort against short-pitched bowling in the Oval Test of 1930, the realization that eventually led to the birth of Bodyline. Imagine Bill Woodfull, played by Russell Crowe, rebuking Pelham Warner, the manager of the English side in that fateful series, “I don’t want to see you, Mr. Warner. There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so”. Throw in little anecdotes like Bradman’s golden duck in Melbourne, the Australian crowd’s reactions as they saw their batsmen getting hit, the resulting diplomatic tensions between the two nations and you certainly have an action-packed and tense script. I wonder who would play Bradman and Larwood though.

2) Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket: A headstrong businessman is denied the broadcast rights for the Australian cricket season and decides to take on the old heads at the Australian Cricket Board. His brainchild, World Series Cricket, with considerable help from Tony Greig, splits the cricket world into two, turns players against their countries, and changes the look and feel of one-day cricket forever. From fighting a fierce legal battle with the cricket authorities, Kerry Packer went on to become an icon who was mourned with a minute’s silence at the MCG when he died. Michael Douglas pulled off “Greed is good” with elan in Wall Street, he would be able to pull off Packer’s immortal line to the members of the ACB, “What is your price, gentlemen?” too, wouldn’t he? He would need to learn the Australian accent though!

3) Basil D’Oliveira and South Africa’s isolation: It was poetic justice that South Africa’s sporting isolation was expedited because of one of their own. Basil D’Oliveira was born and raised in Cape Town, but made a name for himself in English cricket. He was named in an England squad due to tour South Africa in 1968-69. South Africa’s apartheid regime meant that he was not welcome in his own country, however. South African cricket authorities were well aware that their government’s stance would lead to the series being cancelled and South Africa isolated, which resulted in plenty of behind-the-scenes machinations to ensure that D’Oliveira didn’t tour, but to no avail. England insisted on picking him, South Africa insisted he wouldn’t be allowed. The tour was cancelled and finally, in 1970, South Africa was indefinitely banned from international cricket. They did not make it back until…

4) ...South Africa’s readmission in 1991: The story of South Africa’s readmission to the world of cricket is every bit as movie-worthy as the story of their isolation 22 years ago. Ali Bacher was the South African captain in their last series before their isolation, and he was again instrumental in getting them back into the fold. Convincing the ICC and its member countries that South Africa had turned a new leaf with the end of apartheid was no mean task, but Bacher, with some help from Jagmohan Dalmiya, accomplished the feat. South Africa returned to international cricket against India on November 10, 1991. If scenes of the South African cricketers’ welcome in Calcutta, their meeting with Mother Teresa and Clive Rice’s moving statement, “I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon”, are not movie-material, I don’t know what is!

5) Allan Border: Sports movies are fairytales most of the time. A determined coach or captain takes over a ravaged, disintegrated team and transforms it into a bunch of world beaters. Allan Border did it too, but with one difference - his team didn’t actually become world beaters under him. With his dogged batting and captaincy, sheer force of example, he literally dragged a down-in-the-dumps Australian side to the threshold of world champion status. The fairytale would have had a perfect ending too, but Australia fell agonizingly short of wresting back the Frank Worrell Trophy from the West Indies in 1993, the last time Border crossed swords with his old tormentors. Australia did it a year later, but it was Mark Taylor who lifted the trophy, Border never got to hold it. It just wasn’t meant to be.

6) The Rise and Fall of Modi: Like him or loathe him, there’s no denying the fact that the swift rise, and swifter fall of Lalit Modi would make for an engaging movie. Call him a visionary who realised the true potential of Twenty20 cricket better than its creators, or a money-minded businessman for whom cricket was a vehicle to money and power. The merciless crushing of the Indian Cricket League, the dream start of the IPL, the crass, in- your-face commercialization of every aspect of it, his autocratic way of running things, a tendency to rub people the wrong way, and the somewhat inevitable scandals that engulfed the IPL within three years are all a scriptwriters dream. And Modi is still young enough to play himself!

There are plenty of other stories in the game that would make for wonderful movies. The story of Bradman, the Boy from Bowral. The story of Frank Worrell, who was so much more than just a cricketer and captain. The lives of characters like Shane Warne. The continuous soap opera that is Pakistan cricket. The deeper you dig, the more nuggets cricket would throw up. But to start with, the six stories above are not a bad collection, are they?