December 26, 2013

When an editor ate his words

India's World Cup victory in 1983 prompted some unforgettable banter between their manager and a magazine editor

Not pictured above: a magazine editor tearing up a piece of paper to make a meal out of © Getty Images

In 1983, shortly before the third edition of the Prudential World Cup was due to be staged in England, David Frith, in his capacity as editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly wrote an article that previewed the coming action. In it, he assessed the teams that would soon assemble for the contest; West Indies still remained favourites, with some teams, possibly Pakistan and England, deemed capable of upsetting the proverbial applecart. Some teams seemed incapable of winning the tournament. Among them was India.

Frith was particularly scathing in his assessment of the touring Indians. Their record in the two World Cups thus far had been dismal: in 1975 they had won one match, against East Africa, and suffered heavy defeats in the remaining two; in 1979 they had won none of their games, and had even been beaten by an Associate team, Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankans were no pushovers, and indeed, their beating of India served notice to the rest of the world that they had matured sufficiently to be ready for top-flight international cricket, but still old biases persisted, and being beaten by a member of the Associate club felt like humiliation. Emboldened by India's poor track record, Frith suggested that if India did not improve its showing, then they should be made to qualify for the next World Cup along with the Associate nations.

It is not clear how many of Wisden Cricket Monthly's readers disagreed with Frith; certainly, the Indian team had done nothing to suggest his assessment of their chances, and his prescription for their future place in the World Cup, was too wildly off the mark. There was, of course, the small matter of the Indians having beaten West Indies in a one-day international in Berbice earlier that year; India had scored at six runs an over, reaching 282 off 47 overs, and then restricted West Indies to 255. Gavaskar had scored 90 off 117, Kapil Dev 72 off 38, and West Indies were at full strength. But it is not clear if English journalists had paid any attention to India's tour and the three-game one-day international series, which West Indies finally won 2-1.

One reader of Frith's essay was Man Singh*, from New Jersey in USA. After the tournament had concluded, Singh wrote to WCM. In his letter, which was published in the Letters to the Editor section, Singh reminded Frith of his article, and suggested that the result of the World Cup meant that Frith should retract his words. A mere verbal or written retraction would not do for Singh; he suggested Frith eat - literally - his words. As a palliative measure, Singh wrote he'd be willing to let Frith wash down the offending passage with a suitable hot or cold beverage of his choice.

Frith was game. In the very same letters section, WCM published a photograph of its editor eating the offending piece of paper, a rueful grin on his face. I do not remember the beverage used to soften the blow and aid the passage of that soggy mess down Frith's gullet; whatever it was, it couldn't have done much to disguise the taste of paper and printer's ink.

I am not sure if writing in any other sport has ever featured such good-natured banter and retraction of the written word.

Note: I am entirely reliant on my memory for the details of this article; I welcome anyone with back issues of WCM to supply additional details, scans of the article, the relevant letter, and of course, the epic photograph of Frith's meal.

When first published, this article incorrectly named Christopher Martin-Jenkins and the Cricketer as the editor and magazine in question. The error is regretted

January 21, 2014, 2.30GMT: The name of the reader was mistakenly written as PR Man Singh, the manager of India's World Cup team. This has now been corrected

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

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