In a spot, in a fix

Three more faces that I need to reconcile with, they put me in a spot, they put me in a fix.

Avirook Sen September 22, 2010

I find it hard to reconcile the many faces of Pakistani cricket that I’ve seen over the years. I remember going into mild depression and refusing to eat the day Asif Iqbal retired. So it felt strange and wonderful when, in 2007, I found myself sitting next to the great man on the London tube. I spat out a few short sentences in breathless gibberish, to which he smiled kindly. He looked so trim. I asked him whether he still played. “Never picked up a bat since I retired,” he replied. When he left the train, I wondered whether I felt like eating lunch that day.

A different generation of players came down to Calcutta in 1989 for the Nehru Cup. The great Khan was in charge and I remember how he would have to jog across the lobby so that he wasn’t mobbed by girls (and some boys). One promising young all-rounder fell hopelessly in love with a pretty girl on the hospitality committee, sending her flowers every hour. That didn’t work out and he soon fell hopelessly out of form (or out of favour, I can never figure out in sub-continent cricket).

At the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, I watched Saeed Anwar pant his way to a hundred against India as I sat amongst a boisterous group of Pakistani supporters. They kept screaming: “Maulana ko paani bhejo!” Several people in the Pakistan dressing room were in the process of discovering, or rediscovering, their faith and this added an interesting dimension to the game.

The next year I watched a great young talent called Yasir Hameed hit 98 in the ODI in Peshawar to follow his 80-odd in Rawalpindi. We all said he was the best young cover driver in cricket. But I remember Hameed for a reason sweeter than his (former) cover drive. After the final Test of that “Friendship Series” in Pindi, I saw him lean across from the Pakistan balcony to ask one of the Indian players for a signed shirt. The player stretched out and handed him one. Then Hameed said: “Ek Sachin se kara de na...”

And now I see Hameed on TV bitterly accusing his team of corruption — in the hope of getting an endorsement contract. Shahid Afridi said Hameed’s mental age is 16. Seeing Hameed on the balcony in Pindi in 2004, I thought the same, but in a good way. Seeing Afridi trying to eat a cricket ball on the big screen, I had put his mental age at 13.

And Shoaib Akhtar? My lasting images of him are two: bowling Dravid and Tendulkar off successive deliveries in Eden Gardens. And a second-hand account of him racing his soulmate, Bollywood’s Salman Khan, at Bandra Bandstand in Bombay, their manes blown back by the midnight breeze from the Arabian Sea.

Now I see him huffing and puffing to run into bowl. If they raced today, Salman would have been back home, and having crushed the ice poured himself a large glass of rum right about when Shoaib took the U-turn at Shah Rukh’s house just up the road.

So what’s going to happen to Asif and Butt and the impressionable genius Aamir? If the pattern is followed, there’ll be penalties and amnesties…and more penalties. The loop of Pakistan cricket isn’t easy to break out of. For me, personally, these are three more faces that I need to reconcile with. Like many that came before them, they put me in a spot. They put me in a fix.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2010.


Indraneel Mukherjee | 11 years ago | Reply A very good friend of mine who happens to know you personally shared the link of this article in my FB account. He was pretty sure that I would like it. And indeed he was correct. What really struck me was the overall balance in the article. While in no means did you try to defend or justify some of the events that has shaken a cricket lover's confidence in the recent past but at the same you did not advocate outright suspension of PCB from ICC. Thanks for this piece. Would love to read your articles in the future.
Nick from London | 11 years ago | Reply Excellent column Avirook. The spot-fixing scandal is a terrible blow for cricket but I'm also pretty unimpressed by Jonathan Trott's reported behaviour before the fourth one-day international at Lord's. It has allowed the otherwise very foolish Ijaz Butt to try to reclaim a small molehill of the moral high ground and to blur the underlying grave problems somewhat. Roll on the Ashes. Roll on honest cricket everywhere.
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