The eternal drama of Pakistan cricket never ceases to fascinate the fans of Cricket game. Why would it? There are only few teams in world cricket, rather world sports, as unpredictable and mercurial as Pakistan. They will be a laughing stock one day with their amateurish performance and next day exhibit elated panache with ability to beat best in the world. If not for Pakistani cricket team, cricket would have been the most boring sport of the world.
Pakistan as a country has been through a number of ups and downs since traumatic partition in 1947 and its cricket has followed the similar pattern in direct proportion, perfectly summing up what this sport means to this country. Initially dispersed, unrecognised, underfunded and weak, Pakistan’s cricket team grew to become a major force in world cricket, explains Peter Oborne in his book “Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan”. Packed with memories from former players and top administrators, and digging deep into political, social and cultural history, this book is major study of sport and nationhood of Pakistan.
For cricket enthusiast and lovers like me who grew up watching sports in 1990s and 2000s derive inspiration from likes of Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam ul Haq, Muhammad Yousaf, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Misbah ul Haq and Saeed Ajmal. We are not much aware of the cricket history and heroes before 90s. That is why the first half of the book which analyses Pakistan cricket from partition to 1980s was the best part for me. The book provided, in a smooth free flowing manner, a brilliant narrative of drama, politics, jokes and personalities of that era.
The book starts with a focus on the trauma of partition of 1947 and a particular focus on the lives of the two early heroes of Pakistani cricket: Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Fazal Mahmood. Kardar and Justice Cornelius were in some senses the creators of Pakistan’s cricket. Cornelius was a brilliant man who was vice-president of Board of Control of Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) and later become Chief Justice of Pakistan. They formed a formidable partnership to help Pakistan achieving an uphill task of Test-playing nation. Kardar could often be seen cruel and intolerant but he was ultimately driven by passionate belief in the honour of Pakistan. Fazal Mahmood was the early instigator of a fast bowling tradition that has been backbone of great Pakistani cricketing sides over the years. It was emotional to read that Fazal on the way back to Pakistan from the camp in India after partition in 1947 would have been lynched by Hindu fanatics on a train were it not for the legendary Indian cricketer C K Nayudu, who defended Mahmood with his cricket bat.
The cricketing story of a decade and a half after the partition as narrated in the book is simply exhilarating. The exuberance of the cricket of this period seemed intertwined with the task of nation-building. The first Pakistani tour of India, victory at oval in 1954, India’s tour of Pakistan, the touring English MCC team’s kidnapping of a Pakistani umpire, exciting encounters with teams of West Indies and Australia, supremacy of Mohammads of Karachi and Burkis of Lahore, batting heroics of Muhammad Hanif and deadly bowling due of Fazal and Khan Muhammad – all of these have been told with a great mixture of drama, wit and charm.
The book wandered in middle during the epochs of 60s and early 70s just like middle overs of a One Day match innings – slow in tempo but engaging. 1960s was a difficult period for cricket in Pakistan, which Oborne terms as ‘a lost decade’. In the 1960s, Pakistan won just two tests out of 30 played, both against New Zealand. Eight were lost, while 20 were drawn. Pakistan cricket was overcome by a morbid defensiveness. Avoiding defeat became the height of national ambition.
As the cricket entered its golden era in 1970s, the shape of Pakistani cricket started to change on positive note as well. The revolt of players against AH Kardar, administrator at that time, marked the transition. In 1976 the national side, hardened to defeat for so long time was suddenly stronger, angrier and more motivated capable of beating any side in the world. The team was fantastically led by attacking captain, Mushtaq Muhammad. Team had perfect balance of age and youth: Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Bari, Zaheer Abbas, Sarfraz Nawaz joined by new generation, of whom Imran Khan and Javed Miandad were soon to turn into giants.
The book also touches the strong sense of Pakistan how it has been unfairly treated across the global community and press, particularly England. Javed Miandad’s batting achievements were undermined by an abrasive reputation. Imran Khan was portrayed as a “not especially gifted cricketer” in contrast to someone who was “always learning, always seeking to improve himself and always seeking out responsibility”.
Imran Khan and Javed Miandad formed a formidable partnership which took Pakistani cricket to great heights in 80s and 90s. Imran took charge of Pakistani team at vital moment of its cricketing history and Pakistani cricket came of age during that period. Pakistan cricketers were no longer patronised by the dominant white cricketing nations. Instead, they came to be feared and resented.
Two discoveries stand out during that period, Oborne explains. First one was the reverse swing. It was pioneered by Sarfraz Nawaz, passed on by Imran Khan to two Ws, Wasim and Waqar, who mastered it perfectly. Reverse swing became a primary cause of estrangement between Pakistan and white cricket nations in 1990s. Second was more of a rediscovery. It was emergence of wrist bowling in form of magician Abdul Qadir who was discovered by Imran.
Pakistan was in disarray going into 1992 World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand. After a dismal start the cornered tigers were lifted by great leadership of Imran and Miandad’s consistency under pressure, who took Pakistan all the way to the final to lift the greatest prize of World Cricket.
Pakistan cricket grew to altogether new levels in 1990s and 2000s marked by great victories and fight backs. Cricket which used by a game of urban upper-middle class people became a game of lower-middle class persons. Cricket grew geographically which was supported by financial revolution. However, this period was also marred by curse of match fixing, the Justice Qayyum report and spot fixing allegations in 2010 which resulted in ban of trio Salman Butt, Muhammad Asif and Muhammad Amir. It also faced an age of isolation post 9/11 attacks when various teams refused to visit Pakistan on a number of occasions.
Pakistan had a bright moment in 2009 when it won T20 World Cup under captaincy of Yonis Khan. However there was horrible moment too in same year. In 2009, as the Sri Lankan cricket team were on their way to a Test in Lahore, their team bus was attacked by militant gunmen. Since then Pakistan has played its home cricket in the UAE. Oborne remarks that against such a background, it seems miraculous that the game exists at all, let alone is considered by Pakistanis as their pride and joy.
Misbah-ul-Haq took over captaincy of a dejected Pakistani team. The task he faced was far more difficult than any previous captain, including AH Kardar. He had to lead a cricket team in exile, deal with constant charges of corruption and match-fixing, and confront a chaotic administration. Oborne has rightly put in his book that it speaks volumes for the character of Misbah who took the challenge and led team by example, self-belief and courage.
‘Wounded Tiger’, Winner of the 2004 William Hill Sports Book of the Year, is not just about presenting a fascinating picture of story and characters of Pakistan cricket. It recognises the “beauty” of Pakistan with its ever-present follies. From the uncertainty over the ages of the record-breaking “teenaged debutants” to “master inventors” and the most shrewd of tacticians to the ability of pulling out surprises that is unique to Pakistan alone.
The following excerpt from the book perfectly sums up the nature of Pakistan and its cricket:
“Everywhere I went in Pakistan, I was aware that people feel a huge sense of pride in their country. This pride expresses itself through the cricket team, whose white clothing against a green field nearly matches the colours of the national flag. Cricket is the game of the villages; it is the game of the towns. It is the game of the old; it is the game of the young, the rich and the poor. It is played in the plains of the Sindh and in the mountains of the north. It is played by the army and the Taliban. It is enjoyed by all Pakistan’s sects and religions. It is part of Pakistan’s history and also its future. It is magical and marvellous. Nothing else expresses half so well the singularity, the genius, the occasional madness of the people of Pakistan, and their contribution to the world sporting community.”
My rating of the book 8/10.
This blog was published on Pak Tea House.