If you’re an aspiring cricketer in India, one of the most important moments in your life happens on Selection Day. Much like the NHL Entry Draft, it’s the day you find out if you’ve made it into the big leagues.
In the novel Selection Day, young brothers from the slums of Mumbai, Radha and Manju, have been groomed to become cricketers. Their abusive father forces them to practice constantly, disallowing other activities and even schooling so that he can raise the number one and number two batsmen in all of cricket.
Against difficult odds, the brothers do excel at the game. But, just as with hockey, many other factors aside from talent determine whether you make it into the big leagues. The road to success, and out of the slums, is fraught with pitfalls.
Like most North Americans, I know little about cricket. This summer I watched a match in Cambridge, and from the outside it looked amiable and romantic. The cricketers were in white, some on the pitch, others lounging in the gazebo and still others strolling the grounds, drinks in hand, in their Harry-Potter-esque striped sporting jackets.
This isn’t the cricket described in Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day. India pins its country’s identity to the game, but in the 21st Century some question cricket’s postcolonial relevance. Even more troubling is the problem of widespread corruption infiltrating the game.
So not only do Radha and Manju have the difficulty of proving themselves on the pitch, setting aside their own aspirations to serve their father, but they have to negotiate with profiteers, racketeers and those corrupting the game with betting and spot-fixing.
The boys love the game, but because they are under so much pressure, they start to look outside and beyond the cricket pitch for other opportunities and for relief. What does a boy do when he no longer loves cricket? If he doesn’t play, he will be saddled with an enormous sense of failure, and lost opportunities to get out of poverty.
Known best for his Man Booker prize winning The White Tiger, Adiga explores the complexities of Indian society, the game of cricket, parenting and growing up — all with amazing skill that is tinged with bitterness. Selection Day has surprising twists and outcomes that will have you looking up famous cricketers on Wikipedia, and questioning the place of sport in any society.