Sports books to keep you going while you wait for the real action to resume

Books on some of the world's greatest sports personalities to keep you going amid the lockdown.
Like everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic has put live sporting events on hold. If you’re done with endless TV re-runs of classic matches, Dhruv Munjal offers a choice of entertaining sports books to keep you going.

Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend 

You can’t help but wonder if a maverick like Sócrates would have ever made it in the sanitised, politically correct world of modern football. It would have been extremely brave of a club or manager to take on a chain-smoking footballer who loved his beer, and saw himself as a driver of political change. Back in the day, of course, as Reuters journalist Andrew Downie writes in this brilliantly researched debut book, football was a very different place, and Sócrates got his way simply because he possessed a rare talent and charisma. This is a comprehensive biography of the former Brazilian captain: blunt, revealing and hugely entertaining. A special book about a special player. 

Author: Andrew Downie
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Pages: 377
Kindle price: Rs 277


Mid-Wicket Tales: From Trumper to Tendulkar 

Rare as they are, it’s always fun to have a cricket book not from some eminent historian or journalist, but a passionate fan. In 2014, S Giridhar and V J Raghunath did exactly that, turning their ESPNCricinfo blog into a book. 

Mid-Wicket Tales is a collection of anecdotes about the sport’s yesteryear stars, including names that have either been forgotten, or their stories previously deemed insignificant to be fully told. The standout ones here feature Clarrie Grimmett’s ability to hoodwink batsmen — despite them thinking they had figured his flipper out — and a young Arthur Mailey getting the better of his idol, the dazzlingly stylish Victor Trumper. Written with great enthusiasm and a keen eye for historical detail, this will delight romantics hoping to relive cricket’s bygone eras. 

Authors: S Giridhar & 
V J Raghunath 
Publisher: SAGE India
Pages: 270
Kindle price: Rs 415


Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics

Jonathan Wilson’s seminal work on football tactics is, perhaps, the most important book written on the sport in the last 10 years. Wilson, most notably a columnist with The Guardian, draws on his years of studying styles and formations to deliver a remarkably insightful tour de force. Wilson covers immense ground in the book, from the early Scottish influence on the game and the widespread use of the 2-3-5, to the passing revolution ushered in by Pep Guardiola and Barcelona’s tiki-taka. It’s a stunning effort, made all the more enjoyable by Wilson’s viewing of football through the wider lens of politics and culture. A modern classic. 

Author: Jonathan Wilson 
Publisher: Orion Books
Pages: 481
Kindle price: Rs 199


Open: An Autobiography

It’s funny how Andre Agassi — partly due to the omnipresent appeal of the “Big Three” — is now seldom mentioned among tennis’ all-time greats. Pete Sampras comes up, but Agassi is almost akin to a forgotten hero. That’s a pity, since Agassi was the preeminent all-surface player of the 1990s. Open is the wild story of that success — of how Agassi fought an emotionally abusive father and overcame his hatred for the sport to become the best tennis player in the world. The mental lacerations of childhood, Agassi reveals, manifested themselves in quirky fashion choices and bizarre physical appearances in later years. Penned alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning J R Moehringer, Open is all that you desire from a memoir: candid, funny and inspiring. 

Author: Andre Agassi 
(with J R Moehringer)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 400
Kindle price: Rs 227


Klopp: Bring the Noise

It’s an anxious time if you’re a Liverpool fan. Administrators and politicians in Britain are still divided over restarting the Premier League, which means that Liverpool’s best top-flight season in recent memory may yet finish without them landing the big prize. But they would never be in such a position in the first place without the steely stewardship of Jürgen Klopp. Through interviews with players and coaches who’ve known the German, The Athletic columnist Raphael Honigstein draws an impressive portrait of the Liverpool boss in this biography, charting his playing — and later, managerial — days at Mainz, and explaining the origins of “gegenpressing”, the philosophy that has defined his success at both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool. Compelling and informative, Bring the Noise is a fine example of in-depth football journalism.  

Author: Raphael Honigstein
Publisher: Random House 
Pages: 307
Kindle price: Rs 297


Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong 

There’s a wealth of material out there on the disgraced American cyclist, but very little can match the cold-blooded ruthlessness of Juliet Macur in Cycle of Lies. Macur, The New York Times’ cycling correspondent, presents a hard-hitting account of Armstrong’s reprehensible fall from grace, full of shocking twists and racy details. Macur’s biggest scoop is getting her hands on revelatory audio tapes left behind by J T Neal, Armstrong’s former masseur who died from cancer in 2002. In the process, she lifts the lid on how he gamed the doping system and went undetected throughout his entire career. Macur also explores Armstrong’s personal side, unearthing a solipsistic individual who enjoyed frayed relations with those close to him, most notably his mother. 

Author: Juliet Macur
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 481
Kindle price: Rs 306


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running 

While this may not squarely fall under the sports category, it’s nevertheless a special book that gives you a precious glimpse into an ordinary runner’s mind. Haruki Murakami started running only in his early 30s, but within a year of taking it up, he was competing in marathons. He has even run a 100-km long ultra-marathon. In this part-philosophical, part-whimsical book, the acclaimed Japanese author looks back on the countless miles he has clocked — and the different moods and emotions that accompany each run. The prose isn’t the most stylish, but there are still many quotable lines — a Murakami hallmark — in this quasi-memoir. A personal favourite: “All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence.”

Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 194
Kindle price: Rs 161


No Spin: My Autobiography 

Shane Warne has always lived life on the edge. From getting caught with his pants down — literally — to risking temporary banishment from cricket by popping water-loss pills, Warne has long been the embodiment of his sport’s enfant terrible. No Spin is fun, engaging and amusing for solely that reason — Warne, staying true to character, pulls no punches. There’s a lot about his spat with Steve Waugh, the time he was asked to fix games, and why he refused to “worship” the Baggy Green. Unabashedly bold and uniquely refreshing.  

Author: Shane Warne 
(with Mark Nicholas)
Publisher: Ebury Press
Pages: 415
Kindle price: Rs 274


The Fight

Book cover of The Fight
There’s so much literature available on Muhammad Ali that it’s impossible to pick just one. David Remnick’s 1998 King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero, for instance, is a singular work centred on the boxer’s early career, but nothing quite captures the valour and vulnerability of Ali like Norman Mailer in The Fight. The nonpareil account of the “Rumble in the Jungle”, Mailer — who covered the iconic fight — offers an exquisite behind-the-scenes description of what went on before Ali sensationally knocked out George Foreman in Kinshasa and became the king of the world again. Of the shocking denouement, Mailer writes: “…Then a big projectile exactly the size of a fist in 
a glove drove into the middle of Foreman’s mind, the best punch of the startled night, the blow Ali saved for a career”. A tribute as legendary as Ali himself. 

Author: Norman Mailer 
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 241
Kindle price: Rs 300


The Death of Ayrton Senna  

Book cover The Death of Ayrton Senna 
After winning the 1994 football World Cup, Brazil captain Dunga and his men unfurled a banner in tribute of Ayrton Senna, the former Formula One world champion who had died just months earlier. Senna was a Brazilian hero, one whose popularity cut across the country’s social and economic lines. Richard Williams, former chief sportswriter at The Guardian, followed Senna’s career closely, and wrote a poignant and moving memoir of a man who was perfect on the track, but whose life was marred by imperfections off it. First published in 1995, this is one of the finest books ever written on Formula One — a sporting ballad narrated with knowledge, empathy and wit.  

Author: Richard Williams
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 192
Kindle price: Rs 316


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