Well-known British journalist Peter Oborne has done a stellar job of outlining the history of Pakistan cricket in his recently published book, Wounded Tiger: a History of Cricket in Pakistan, starting from pre-Partition days to the present times. The title of the book makes it provocatively interesting, with the cover page showing a bearded young man in shalwar kameez, batting on a dusty evening with three other young men watching him bat.
Pakistan’s first national captain, before the country got Test status, was Mian Saeed Ahmed. Oborne makes an interesting hypothesis regarding how Abdul Hafeez Kardar managed to outmanoeuvre him and took over as skipper. But in the absence of any tangible evidence of any planned conspiracy to oust Mian Saeed, the benefit of the doubt goes to Kardar. Amongst the pioneers, Fazal Mahmood gets star billing as Oborne describes his rise to stardom. The Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP), during its infancy in 1947, had three members: KR Collector, a Parsi, AR Cornelius, a Christian, and Nawab of Mamdot, a Muslim. This mirrored the make-up of the country at that time as envisioned by the Quaid-e-Azam. Oborne here makes a telling political observation that Balochistan and East Pakistan were omitted from the BCCP’s sphere. Without realising the long-term implications, this was virtually taken as an insult and presages a chain of long-term social and political consequences for these regions.
The book features many interesting anecdotes and references to Pakistani cricketers. The one on the fast-bowler Asif Masood deserves special mention: “He had a curious side step at the start of his action; likened by John Arlott (an erudite commentator) to Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress.”
The important milestones in the history of Pakistan cricket are well documented by Oborne. Pakistan’s first Test series win against India in 1978 gets ample space, with the exploits of Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz with the ball, and the brilliant batting feats of Zaheer Abbas having been described well. This series was the forerunner of the Imran Khan era. At the heart of the revolution in Pakistan cricket under Imran was the leg-spin of Abdul Qadir, which is again given justice in the book. In addition, Pakistan’s first series win in England in 1987 under Imran, General Ziaul Haq’s cricket diplomacy in Jaipur and the 1992 World Cup win are other major events covered well by Oborne.
The years between 1992 and 2000, according to Oborne, comprised the age of expansion of Pakistan cricket. This period saw the havoc wreaked on batting line-ups by reverse swing, which was exploited brilliantly by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. During the same period, we also saw the invention of the ‘doosra’ by Saqlain Mushtaq.
The author states that cricket remained an elitist game in the country till 1980. Thereafter, we saw the emergence of players from humble backgrounds, like Abdul Qadir and Shoaib Akthar, whose father was a security guard. The last part of the book is devoted to Pakistan cricket’s “age of isolation”. The one bright spot during this time was Pakistan’s triumph at the World Twenty20 in 2009 under Younus Khan.
In the last chapter, Oborne pays fond tributes to Hanif Mohammad and four other living members of the famed team that won the Oval Test against England in 1954. Oborne’s huge effort in writing this book is clearly displayed as he has travelled to nearly every nook and corner of a country where cricket is played with great fervour. According to him, wherever he went, people felt great pride in their country, which was expressed through their cricket team.
In a final assessment of the great heroes of Pakistan cricket, Oborne opines that two captains, Kardar and Imran, stand head and shoulders above the rest. As upright figures of impeccable integrity, they were able to command complete allegiance of their team members. Both were natural leaders on the field and could be quite stern and unforgiving. The chequered history of Pakistan and its cricket has been fondly and lovingly narrated in this book. Oborne has been visiting Pakistan for many years now, exploring the farthest corners of the country. He comes across as a great friend of Pakistan and its cricket. The story of Pakistan cricket is filled with both triumph and tragedy, and Oborne’s narrative provides a ray of hope for the future.
Oborne’s frequent sojourns to Pakistan have made him somewhat partial to the people here. The problems besetting the country have been delineated in a frank and engaging discourse. He has been generous to us and also to our cricket. This generosity has been enlarged to the extent that Oborne has dedicated the book to Ramma and Saad Bari (my daughter-in-law and son). But this partiality does not detract from the fact that Wounded Tiger is an engaging account of our cricket, viewed through the prism of deep political insight and genuine love for the game. His treatment of the greats of the game evokes nostalgic memories of the most glorious chapters of Test cricket.
Oborne’s book is a must read, not just for the connoisseurs of the game, but for all those who wish to understand the history of cricket. The inside accounts of many incidents and Oborne’s political acumen make it a highly compelling narrative. I am sure that this book will also encourage readers to reach out for some of the other books he has authored, including the award-winning Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy: The Untold Story.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2014.