Playing it My Way by Sachin Tendulkar

How could Sachin Tendulkar top a 24-year long career that started when the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were still toddlers, saw more crests and troughs than a complete team of average cricketers would experience in their entire lifetime, spanned across 200 test matches and almost 35,000 runs? By writing about it in his own way and write he did.

But unlike a sparking Tendulkar innings, his autobiography Playing It My Way – co-authored with Boria Majumdar – is long, arduous and often even a boring account of one of the greatest cricketers ever. Sportspersons are often their harshest critics and therefore by argument also run the risk of being their own biggest fans. Tendulkar might be godlike but at the end of the day he is human, and this book shows that perhaps he a bit too human.

The announcement of Playing It My Way had roused the anticipation levels to such a high that it was reminiscent of the time the master batsman would come out to bat. There were huge expectations from this book as Tendulkar himself was writing it. So, one would get to know the man behind the legend.

But what we get is a detailed account of almost all his innings and a plethora of statistics. Considering this is an autobiography, one would have thought that Tendulkar would get down to the meat and potatoes, but instead he chose to talk about himself largely in a manner that just about everyone would.

For instance, he barely mentions the controversial match-fixing allegations that tarnished the game forever. Even the Multan Test incident, where temporary captain Rahul Dravid declared the innings with Tendulkar just 6 runs short of a double century, gets the perfunctory politically correct treatment.

Critically speaking, Playing It My Way isn’t as impressive as it could have been. One reviewer actually termed him “as reticent as in his playing days”, and rightly so. If Tendulkar had decided to maintain his silence about the episode of coach Greg Chappell coaxing him to upstage captain Dravid just a few days before the 2007 World Cup, what was the reason to come out with it now and that too in a manner that doesn’t really do anything?

Of course, the book has some wonderful trivia about his personal life, especially how he courted Anjali, but one would have expected the great cricketer to talk more about the game. Perhaps a little bit more about his lesser albeit significant contemporaries such as Dravid, who indirectly helped him elevate his game. There are many books on Tendulkar and there will a few more in future, but Playing It My Way being an autobiography, should have obviously paled the new ones unless they offered diametrically opposite viewpoints.

When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin Johnson, Jackie MacMullan

Sports stories that depict intense rivalry are often the best. And When the Game Was Ours brings to life one of the great sports rivalries ever. Running through their entire careers, the rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson made not just them but also the sport of basketball a thing of joy during the 1980s. Right from the time these two started off they were destined to be star-crossed. Be it college, amateur or even professional careers, their trajectories never ceased to collide.

While Bird was the serious technician of the sport, a no-nonsense genius, Johnson was the gregarious and flamboyant one. They became famous for their unique approach to their game. Although the world first saw them when Johnson’s Michigan State team defeated the Indiana State team featuring Bird, the two actually played together for the same team when they first came face to face. They were a part of the All American line-up that played visiting international squads.

The book is a wonderful account of two diverse talents from very different backgrounds. In fact, everything about them was so contrasting that they were born to be rivals. Today, the NBA might be a billion dollar industry, but the time Bird and Johnson started out the association was going through a very bad phase and was mired in drug scandals.

When the Game Was Ours follows the two from the early days of school and college basketball through the famed rivalry which began when Magic joined LA Lakers and Bird was inducted by Boston Celtics. Along the way, the offers a view of how basketball went from being a sport to a way of life.

Before Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, there were legends such as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and this book is a must-read to understand how the two transformed the scene. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that Bird and Johnson actually saved the NBA and created a platform for future stars. With wonderful first-person accounts, When the Game Was Ours is a page-turner and absolutely engrossing even if you don’t follow basketball closely.

Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan by Peter Oborne

Understanding cricket in Pakistan isn’t an easy task. It becomes tougher when on its day Pakistan can thwart just about any side in the world and at the same time it can lose to minions such as Bangladesh with such conviction that you seriously doubt the team’s Test status. It is this alchemy of passion, talent and mercurial unpredictability that has defined cricket in Pakistan for a long while, and yet there wasn’t a book that got it all till Peter Oborne’s Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan came along.

We may see Pakistan in the same broad category as India in the cricketing world, but Oborne’s detailed book informs us very early on how this new nation carved out of India ran the risk of ending up as a satellite, a la Ireland to England, as far as the game was concerned. There were only two playing turfs in the entire country, and it wasn’t allowed to play a Test till 1952.

Surprisingly, Pakistan beat India in India in the very second Test that it played, beat England in England in 1954, and Australia in Australia in 1956. By contrast India won its first test in England in 1971. Oborne’s book is a fascinating account of the prodigious cricketing nation and dispels many myths and misconceptions about cricket in Pakistan.

There is a general perception that the team has largely been associated with nefarious events such as ball-tampering or match-fixing but there’s a lot about Pakistan cricket that, simply put, is awe-inspiring and this book fills those gaps.

Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan is nothing short of brilliant and packs in not just historical facts but also the urban myths that make sports more interesting. For instance, how the spinner Tauseef Ahmad was selected for the national side just after one first-class match and how he ended up routing Australia.

Pakistan hasn’t played host to an international team since the terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team, and perhaps it finds itself close to being a pariah in international cricket. It remains one of the most volatile teams in the world, and its players continue to be unpredictable. What makes this team tick, nevertheless? This is the book that provides the answers.

Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby

At 708 pages the latest biography of the basketball legend is one of the most comprehensive accounts of a sportsperson’s life. Covering not just the life and times of “His Airness”, Lazenby also includes the backstory of Jordan’s ancestors who grew up in post-Civil War America, covering both sides of his lineage, which includes families that were once involved in moonshine trade across North Carolina, and his fatherm who was accused by Jordan’s sister of sexual abuse.

This exhaustive and extensively researched biography by a veteran sports journalist covers everything from Jordan’s past to his time as a part owner of a NBA team following his retirement. Yet, despite an account that addresses just about every single bit that could be written about the one of the greatest basketball figures of out times, one critic couldn’t help but ask just where the real Michael Jordan was.

Although Jordan wasn’t the first globally recognized NBA star, he nonetheless became the foremost ambassador of the sport across the world. The explosion of media interest in the game came after the era of Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the duo of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but no one came close to the brand that Michael Jordan had become.

Reading this book at the same time as When the Game Was Ours the one surprising thing I found standing out was that the future inspirational figure Jordan was practically unknown before he was drafted into the NBA - unlike both Bird and Magic Johnson, who were already stars while they were in college.

A six-time NBA Championship winner, Jordan is presented through numerous incidents and accounts narrated by former coaches, friends and family, and the book does end up giving an all encompassing account of the cultural phenomenon, even if it leaves you wishing you understood its subject better.

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

Although not a 2014 release, this book was my sports discovery of the year! Written by sports writer and ESPN Sports Center anchor Jeremy Schaap, this book is an enthralling account of the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, where the legend of Jesse Owens was born.

The African-American athlete who won four Olympic gold medals and seemingly dashed the Aryan supremacy claim of Adolf Hitler is the stuff legends are made of. It became an instant part of sports folklore. Schaap follows Owens from early childhood and his discovery as a track star, and presents a compelling account of racism across Europe and US of the 1930s alongside his telling of the summer Olympics.

The story of Owens being snubbed by Hitler and the crowd at large has entered our collective consciousness. Schaap corrects many factual inaccuracies surrounding the event. Unlike the popularly consumed version, Hitler didn’t “snub” Owens but chose to congratulate only a handful of winners on the first day of the Olympics.

Later the officials informed him that either he could congratulate all or none. Hitler chose to skip the second day’s proceedings and therefore avoided Owens. But Schaap puts forth enough factual evidence that Hitler did in fact congratulate Owens. The book also debunks Owens’ stories about being ignored by Hitler as he later stated that they made for good material on the lecture circuit.

Schaap is also the writer of Cinderella Man, which was later made into a film, and his narrative here is cut like a screenplay. The book takes up a story with multiple versions, and even though Schaap presents new facts they don’t spoil the version we grew up with.

Gautam Chintamani is the author of Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna. He tweets at @gchintamani.