20140510

The Great Tamasha wins MCC-Cricket Society Book of the Year award for James Astill

Political journalist James Astill has won the 2014 MCC-Cricket Society book of the year award for The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern india.

Essentially, it is story of how cricket became Indianised, first via the increasing success of India in international cricket and more recently with the creation of the cash-rich Indian Premier League, the enormously hyped and hugely popular Twenty20 competition, which has seen the powerbase in the world game shift from London to Delhi.

But The Great Tamasha, published by Bloomsbury, is a book that goes beyond sport to present a history of contemporary India, explaining how cricket in India, with all of its politics and intrigue, offers a picture of the country in microcosm, beset by corruption, cynicism and vast inequalities, and driven by a shameless fight for wealth and power.

Astill, the political editor of The Economist, spent a number of years as the magazine’s bureau chief in Delhi. He has a deep and intimate knowledge of south Asia and is also a cricket fanatic, which made him almost uniquely qualified to write a book of this nature.   The title makes use of the Hindi word 'tamasha', which means entertainment or show.

The author's research was extensive.  He interviewed practically all of the main players in Indian cricket, the tycoons, ex-players and Bollywood stars, as well as the power brokers, including the now discredited and exiled founder of the IPL, Lalit Modi.  But he also spent time in city slums and impoverished rural villages, discovering that despite the concentration of the game's huge wealth in the hands of the often corrupt and self-appointed cricketing elite, enthusiasm for the game among ordinary Indians, the financially and socially oppressed, remains massive.

Jason Burke, reviewing The Great Tamasha for The Observer, said the book was "An engaging history of cricket that serves as perceptive allegory for the state of the subcontinent today."

In The Daily Telegraph, Tom Fort wrote that it is "a clear-sighted and superbly researched study of cricket in India."

The MCC-Cricket Society judges for the 2014 competition were chaired by Vic Marks, the former Somerset and England bowler and The Observer's cricket correspondent. The panel comprised Marks, John Symons and Chris Lowe, who were the judges nominated by the Cricket Society, with David Kynaston and Stephen Fay, representing the MCC.

The shortlisted books, along with The Great Tamasha, were:

The Authors XI - A Season of English Cricket from Hackney to Hambledon, by The Authors Cricket Club (Bloomsbury); Lost In The Long Grass, by John Barclay (Fairfield Books); The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life For His Country and His Name to a Legend, by Brian Halford (Pitch Publishing); Bradmans War: How the 1948 Invincibles Turned the Cricket Pitch into a Battlefield, by Malcolm Knox (The Robson Press); and The Little Wonder: The Remarkable History of Wisden, by Robert Winder (John Wisden & Co).

The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India is available from Amazon , Waterstones and WHSmith.

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