It’s hard sometimes to remember how people who appear constants in your life today first made their presence felt. It could have been through a warm word, a kind gesture, a helping hand in an hour of need, done without fuss or fanfare and entirely due to the goodness of one’s heart.
Alan Wilkins is like that. Inclusive, jovial, kind and polite to a fault, he is the ultimate nice man who, without most certainly intending to, has fired a fantastic shot for all the nice people, showing them that they can finish first, too. And that they can do so without sacrificing innate goodness and decency in a world of broadcasting that even insiders assert is little short of dog-eat-dog.
Wilkins was a cricketer, and a more than handy one at that, before he branched out into broadcasting, but it is in this latest – and ongoing – avatar that he has gently grabbed our imagination. His career as a left-arm fast bowler who took upwards of 240 first-class scalps for his beloved Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and for Northern Transvaal at a time when South Africa were in the throes of isolation wasn’t eye-popping, but that probably had plenty to do with the fact that just as he was beginning to get on top of his game, he was laid low by a shoulder injury.
Cricket’s loss, though, turned out to be the broadcast world’s unqualified gain. Having rubbed shoulders with the best in the world during his seven years as an active cricketer – the crème de la crème plied its wares on the county circuit during Wilkins’s time, between 1976 and 1983 – he was in prime position to talk the walk, if you like, once he was forced to hang up his spikes and ease into the broadcasting booth.
It is this journey, from aspiring fast bowler who was forced by extraneous circumstances to jettison hopes of a storied international cricketer to the calm, measured, dignified voice that has come to dominate television sets for close to two decades now, that Wilkins chronicles in Easier Said Than Done. Chronicles might appear an unkind word, but its use is precipitated by one’s expectations. This is a man who has called the most prestigious events in the world and has rubbed shoulders with the best in the business, across generations and disciplines. While he has provided fleeting insights into the minds of champions, he has more often than not played with the straightest of bats, leaving the adventurous to the more ambitious and probably less qualified.
Especially for a generation of sports-watchers in India to whom Wilkins has been the benevolent uncle for long, the first part of his life – dedicated to cricket and that led him to battles with top guns including Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Botham and Imran Khan – must come as an eye-opener. Despite his sustained presence on Indian television, Wilkins has seldom brought ‘in my day’ into his commentary. Even under severe provocation from good-natured ribbers, he has managed to insulate his commentary/presentation from his cricketing days; on the odd occasion when he has risen to the bait, Wilkins on air has been self-deprecatory rather than pompous and talking himself up. His autobiography is no different. While the tone isn’t apologetic, it is also typical Wilko – some dry humour, plenty of self-deprecation, a meticulous and intelligent presentation of events, and an emotional touch that is understated more than anything else.
Wilkins has probably saved the best for last as he talks about his relationships with the late Tony Greig, the maverick former England captain, and Vijay Amritraj, the tennis world’s man for all seasons. His admiration and respect for these two gents is all too obvious. Over time but sadly only until a couple of years back, viewers have been exposed annually to the wonderful chemistry between Amritraj and Wilkins mainly from the STAR Sports studio in Wimbledon. To me, one of the highlights of the book has to be the chapter on Amritraj, spontaneous and heartfelt.
Easier Said Than Done is no no-holds-barred, tell-all expose. That wouldn’t have been Alan Wilkins then. What Wilkinson, or Wilson – both erroneous surnames are gifts from India to a man Indians love to love – has offered is an honest account of how his life has panned out. Even if not extraordinary, his has not been a life of the ordinary. Nor is the book, either.
Publisher: Roli Books