The launch of Shoaib Akhtar’s book Controversially Yours had to be cancelled in Mumbai. The proverbial ‘Marathi manus’ could not take the fact that a few words of criticism about their living deity, Sachin Tendulkar, had poured forth from cricket’s biggest mouth. So after protests, threats and excellent publicity for what is, all told, a second-rate book, there was no launch in Mumbai.
Shoaib had said Sachin was uncomfortable facing him, insinuating that the batsman played selfishly (for the sake of records) and wasn’t a match-winner. Typically, Shoaib also called Sachin “great” and (ghost) wrote with admiration about his recent form. Sachin’s weaknesses and his greatness have been discussed over decades by more insightful observers, so the root of the launch controversy was hardly what I was looking for when I picked up the book.
I judged it first of all by its cover. It is an unfortunate black and white portrait of Shoaib with the clear suggestion that he is about to pick his nose. (He is purportedly pointing at a cricket ball, but a nostril is dangerously close.) Naturally, I could not resist reading the book.
Upon doing so, I found that Shoaib’s comments on Sachin and the Indians were as harmless as helium when compared with the combustible material about his colleagues and coaches. Of Intikhab Alam, former captain and coach, he writes: “he is the most illiterate man you could meet”. A chap who, despite being around cricket for four decades, “cannot distinguish an in-swinger from an out-swinger”.
Very few pages in the book would survive if you left out Shoaib’s whining about mistreatment and “torture” from his seniors. (Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis find frequent mention in this context).
In the past, I have written about the influence of religion on the Pakistan dressing room, post-9/11. Shoaib’s first-hand account allows the reader to look in through the window at some of the more bizarre goings-on.
Inzamamul Haq, captain and leading evangelist, would routinely go knocking on doors at (mandatory) namaz time to round up “absconders”. The team would jostle in the aisles of planes if prayers had to be said in the air and once had to be stopped because they had messed up the toilet by letting the water run.
Religion played a valiant role in dispute settlement as well. Once, says Shoaib, Saqlain Mushtaq was upset about rumours that he was going to be dropped despite performing consistently. Saqlain called up coach Javed Miandad, but didn’t get a proper answer. The next day, after brooding for a while, he could hold himself back no longer.
Saqlain leapt at the coach suddenly and then grabbed a bat and began chasing Miandad. Miandad, who had charged at Dennis Lillee with a cricket bat years ago, now ran for his life to the PCB chairman’s office. The pursuit was halted when Inzamam and Saeed Anwar caught up with the combatants (don’t ask how). The two batsmen then went about calming Saqlain down. They did this by quoting various Hadiths on forgiveness. Telling the bowler “is mein kaha gaya hai ki aap maaf kar dein”.
But an aggrieved Miandad now kept asking the two theologists why they were not quoting a Hadith that made his case. After all, he was the one who was about to have his skull cracked. Shoaib says: “They very seriously replied that there was one that stated that, as the older man, he must forgive Saqlain.”
This is priceless stuff, though it must be said that given the number and variety of disputes in the Pakistan dressing room (and outside), the best scholars would be hard pressed for Hadiths.
But what do these disputes generally arise out of? Shoaib isn’t very explicit about this (and often contradictory), but the sense you get for the reasons shouldn’t surprise anyone. It is the essentially feudal structure of the game in the subcontinent. This attitude is most obvious in Pakistan, and Shoaib unwittingly lets us know the mindset behind it in a revealing snippet.
Once, a young Pakistan cricketer received a letter from an ardent admirer written in her blood. He replied promptly, says Shoaib, and used his servant’s blood for ink.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2011.