Mainak Sinha is a sort of Gandalf the Grey in the world of online cricket archivists.
The 24-year-old UPSC aspirant from Kandi, a town in Murshidabad, West Bengal, is the man you go to if you’re trying to find the ring, Mordor or the kingdom of the elves — well, their cricketing equivalents.
He has footage from at least 7,500 international games, including the first ODI ever played between Australia and England, in 1971; almost every televised International series screened in India from the ’80s on; and matches from as far back as the 1938 Ashes.
Cricketers themselves slide into his DMs asking for clips they’ve heard he has in his collection. Not long ago, Sinha’s favourite cricketer Rahul Dravid contacted him on Twitter via his manager to ask if he had highlights of his 81 & 68 against the West Indies at Kingston in 2006. Sinha copied all his Dravid-related data onto a USB drive and presented it to the player, including interviews on and off the field.
“His manager said he was surprised to see how much data was in there and in return I got an autographed copy of his book, Rahul Dravid – Timeless Steel,” Sinha says.
In June, as the nation thirsted for live matches, Sinha posted a compilation of Dravid’s best catches from his alternative Twitter handle (@cric_pictures). It has 1.2M views so far. The video was later uploaded separately by Harbhajan Singh, which prompted comments by Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman, R Ashwin and Suresh Raina.
Sinha who goes by the Twitter handle, @cric_archivist, is among a small group of dedicated cricket archivists who spend hours every week poring over footage, tracing its antecedents, carefully cataloguing, saving and backing-up clips and then sharing them online, to the delight of fans around the world.
There’s Muhammad Zohaib Khalid, 38, a businessman from Pakistan with 800 VHS tapes and 500 DVDs of footage from over 6,000 matches played around the world; Rob Moody, 42, a musician from Australia, who’s been collecting match footage since he was 5 (it started more out of fascination for his dad’s new DVR); Jairaj Galagali, 58, from California whose specialty is retrieving old cricket-related news reels from the Films Division; and Subu Sastry, 44, an aero/mechanical engineer from Atlanta, with a fascination for cricket peripherals.
The key, Sinha says, lies in the cataloguing. Where did the clip come from, and therefore, can anyone claim ownership of this version of it? “One needs to have a very good understanding of what can be taken down by YouTube. That is why I have survived for over six years,” says Sinha. Many accounts have been suspended; some lost altogether, because online archives exist in a grey area when it comes to copyright law.
In some cases, the footage may be so old that there is no rightful copyright claim upon it anymore; in others, the footage has been lost by its original owner and therefore any version of it that is found exists in a grey area; and in some cases — as with broadcasters that fail to archive their own games — the ambiguity comes from the fact that there will never be a way for them to prove that they own the footage.
“Legally, it is a tangle worldwide. But these archives hold great value for the viewer,” says sports writer and journalist Ayaz Memon. “Obviously, if I’m getting to watch a match from the 1950s or ’60s which I’ve only heard about, even if it’s a one-minute clip, for me and every other cricket lover, that is of great value. The more content there is in the public domain, the better it is for the sport, and for the fans. But the guy who’s paid the money for it — it’s his prerogative to try and guard his exclusivity.”
Meanwhile, the archives count among their fans Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Sanjay Manjrekar. “Thanks for sharing this wonderful moment Subu!” Sachin tweeted in response to one post (read on to see which one).
“More than videos of me from my young days, I enjoy seeing those I had never seen before,” says Gavaskar. “There are some videos I found through these archivists of some really good matches from a time even before I played for India. I remember when we were teenagers, we would go to see a movie only for the Indian News Review, which sometimes showed a couple of minutes of Test cricket. We would then walk out of the theatre. That’s how this feels. Technically the rights to telecast go for huge sums and so TV channels and Boards are understandably keen to protect those rights. That being said, these videos have been a feast for cricket lovers. Preserving history is important as it reminds us who and what we were and what and how we have become what we are today.”
Shades of grey
If there’s anyone who can match Sinha’s archive in size and popularity, it’s Rob Moody, the musician from Australia. He’s been recording every game he watches since 1983. “In 2008 or 2009, some friends were talking about a particular match and I said I had footage. They suggested I put it up on YouTube and that’s how it all began,” he says. His channel, robelinda2, has 7.61 lakh subscribers.
He evolved from recording games on VHS tapes to a digital recorder in 2004. Today his archive is split between 300 old videotapes, 25,000 DVDs, and about 60 hard drives holding a total of about 100TB of footage.
His collection features a lot of Sachin Tendulkar. “I must have hundreds of videos involving the great Tendulkar, which continue to get tens of thousands of views a year — especially the video of the straight drives against Brett Lee at the Melbourne Cricket Ground,” he says.
Some of the most watched videos include the 23 funniest run-outs of Inzamam ul Haq, six Jonty Rhodes miracle catches, Glenn McGrath hitting his only six in international cricket and Shane Warne bowling to Sachin for the first time in India, in 1998.
In addition to recording footage, both Sinha and Moody have reached out to broadcasting houses across the cricketing world — from the UK to India, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand — to purchase footage. But most of their body of clips comes from their own recordings, and friends and fellow archivists around the world.
It’s important, both Mainak and Rob maintain, to never upload anything from recent times, when copyright laws are much more clearly defined; and to not upload iconic games of the past because those are the ones the broadcasters tend to archive and can then prove ownership of. Moody doesn’t post anything that happened after 2007; Sinha keeps to a cut-off of 2005-06 on YouTube.
“No World Cup games, no IPL games — those are golden rules,” Sinha says.
Zohaib, the businessman from Faisalabad, Pakistan, agrees. He started his YouTube channel in 2018, on Sinha’s encouragement. Zohaib has been recording every game he has watched since he was 11.
“It was mainly because of the match timings,” he says. They’d be screened live late at night a lot of the time, and he had school in the morning, so the recorder would record while he slept, and the habit was set. His channel, Cricket King Zohaib, has won him friends from all over the world, he says. “Most people are surprised that I’ve recorded so many Indian games,” says Zohaib. “It was mainly because of my fascination with Sachin Tendulkar’s batting in the 1990s. I was also equally fascinated by Brian Lara, Waqar Younis and Inzamamul Haq at the time,” he says.
The most popular video on his channel is a friendly game between the Indian cricketers Ajit Agarkar and Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood stars Anupam Kher, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt, in 2001. It has 3.1M views.
When residents were told to stand by for evacuation orders during the forest fires in Bay Area California in August, Jairaj Galagali, a senior director at Oracle in California, tweeted, “Besides passports, the only valuables I have kept in readiness are the 150+ DVDs of Films Division historic cricket footage.”
His YouTube channel, Jai Galagali, features videos from the Films Division archives dating back to the 1940s (the ones Gavaskar was referring to earlier). Galagali started building his collection four years ago, paying the Films Division in full for copies of clips, which were finally shipped to him in the US. His channel was still taken down in July, citing a copyright strike by the FD.
Most of the footage he had got from FD were silent, so Galagali overlaid commentary, social context, even snatches of popular music from the time. These videos gained popularity during the lockdown, when no live matches were being telecast. His channel now awaits a review from the FD. “This is a non-profit venture. I am trying to volunteer here in a small way to preserve our rich cricket history. I hope they see my point,” he says.
Subu Sastry, a global director at GE in Atlanta, says what he finds heartening is the sense of goodwill between the archivists, the cricketers, and the community of fans. Within the small group of archivists, footage is swapped, advice shared on how to navigate copyright issues, and warnings issued if anyone is flying too close to the sun.
“Each archivist has his own USP. No one’s trying to ape the other; everyone’s trying to unearth cricket history that’s never seen before,” Sastry says. His USP is that he likes to collect cricket peripherals — interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, pre-match shows and documentary titles to go with actual games. “It gives me a kick.”
He started uploading his stash of cricket footage at the behest of Galagali, who suggested he post fresh footage every Friday, like a film release. He now does it as often as he can. Sastry posts only on Twitter (@suubsy) and started late last year. “I actually only joined Twitter in 2010, when Sachin Tendulkar hit his double hundred in an ODI, so that I could congratulate him.”
His most viral video in recent times was of Sunil Gavaskar advising Tendulkar in 1996 that he should get 15,000 Test runs and 40 Test tons. “It was like a prophecy,” he says.
The post was acknowledged by Tendulkar, who thanked him on Twitter. Sastry has pinned that Tweet like a badge of honour. “This happened very early in my career. Special words from the great man. I am just glad that I could live up to his expectations. Thanks for sharing this wonderful moment Subu!” says the tweet by Sachin.
When Dean Jones died, Subu dug out a rare gem of him riding a donkey cart providing a humorous weather report during the India tour of Pakistan in 2004.
“I started noticing these pages during the lockdown. Earlier I just wouldn’t have had the time,” says Manjrekar, former Indian cricketer and now cricket commentator. “I’m taking the time to carefully study these archives, and it is time well used. You see modern-day cricket all the time. Sometimes, it’s just nice to go back and watch a TV show that featured Imran Khan who’s now the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The other day, one account put up an old video of Dean Jones doing a fun kind of thing with a donkey cart. You need to have an eye for what to flesh out from the past and that’s what these fans have. Of course, copyright is an issue and it is a grey area.”
A lot of precious footage is languishing, Memon adds. “Before the BCCI got television rights, the matches used to be covered by AIR and Doordarshan, and the Films Division. Nobody knows where that footage is. It’s a travesty. The BCCI has also been kind of lacklustre in this respect. They are probably sitting on a treasure chest of footage that they don’t know what to do with. That’s the unfortunate part. Ideally, the BCCI and these archivists should be working together. But at the end of the day, the archivists are highly involved, doing a very good job, and have thrived and amassed a cult following. Rob’s channel for instance was suspended a few weeks ago but he sorted it out and his videos have come back online. Maybe all that these guys have to do is to learn the art of persuasion.”