Once, while strolling aimlessly in Kathmandu, Professor Gyanesh Kudaisya from National University of Singapore remarked that cricket and Bollywood carried immense nationalistic signification in India. His assertion compelled us to recognise the seminality that the game of cricket holds in the entire subcontinent.
Unfortunately, the film industry in other countries of the region does not flourish as much as Bollywood. No comparison therefore is possible. Pakistan’s film industry was vibrant till 1970s but it declined with time, as is documented marvellously by Mushtaq Gazdar in his Pakistan Cinema: 1947-1997.
Thus, Pakistan only has cricket through which nationalistic feeling is articulated.
Even the Taliban have interest in the sport!
But, unfortunately, Pakistan’s cricket and its impact on our society has not been documented well probably because social history is an uncharted terrain in the academic institutions of Pakistan.
While, historians like Boria Mazumdar and Rama Chandra Guha have pushed their pens to write the history of Indian cricket, Pakistan has only three major histories of Pakistan cricket: a serious, scrupulous and well-written account by Omar Noman, Pride and Passion: An Exhilarating Half century of Cricket in Pakistan; a valuable book by Shuja ud Din and Salim Pervez, Chequered History of Pakistan Cricket; and a voluminous compilation by Nauman Niaz which is, in certain places, marred by strong opinions and unverified information.
But, Peter Oborne’s Wounded Tiger that came out just a few weeks ago presents the most comprehensive history of Pakistani cricket. This hefty volume is an account of a wide range of issues pertaining to Pakistan cricket — from reverse swing to match fixing.
Oborne documents Pakistan’s cricket history up to Misbah-ul-Haq. The role of the famous families, like Mohammads and Burkis, in promoting cricket is discussed thoroughly in the fashion of an anthropologist.
Adequate space is devoted to women’s cricket too.
It is the most informed source on Pakistan’s cricket history, with a sympathetic acknowledgement of Pakistani cricketing talent and its constraint because of political and geostrategic situations that have led to a sort of ostracism.
The mapping of the growth of Pakistan cricket from Abdul Hafeez Kardar to Imran Khan is admirably done. Oborne eulogises the role of Oxford-educated Kardar in steering the faltering ship of Pakistan cricket to stability. He was a natural leader. With only two world-class players, Hanif Mohammad and Fazal Mahmood, he led the team to victory at the Oval in 1954. Kardar played a pivotal role in putting together the structure of domestic cricket, although it proved to be a lost cause. He possessed both an outstanding cricketing mind and a nationalistic penchant. As a captain, he can well be compared with Imran Khan.
Oborne has devoted quite a bit of space to Justice Cornelius, who was instrumental in bringing cricket under the patronage of Pakistani State. Under Sikander Mirza, the bond between the state and cricket was further cemented simply because he was a keen cricketer.
But the changing configuration of politics affected cricket too. The obvious example was the Ayub Khan era when the team suffered many ignominies on the playing field. There was indifference towards the sport. The frequency of international matches waned. A senior generation of players, groomed and nurtured in the pre-partition age, moved on, and owing to the inadequacies of domestic cricket, players of quality failed to come forward. Cricket just did not fit in well in the development model Ayub intended to pursue.
By late 1960s, through Intikhab Alam, Mushtaq Muhammad, Asif Iqbal, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Sarfraz Nawaz, Pakistani cricket saw rejuvenation. They were talented and got an opportunity to hone their skills in English county cricket. With a cricket enthusiast like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at the helm and Kardar in charge of the cricket board, Pakistan cricket was on the rise. And, when Imran Khan and Javed Miandad joined the ranks, Pakistan became a formidable team — as was confirmed by the 1976 victory in Sydney under the leadership of Mushtaq Mohammad.
Mushtaq was an inspirational leader whose role is acknowledged by Oborne in particular.
The Pakistan team was at its best in 1977 when Kerry Packer, an Australian media wizard, rocked the boat. Differences emerged between the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan and players who had signed for Packer — five of whom were ousted from the team. It had a disastrous effect on the team’s performance against England in 1978. The ousted cricketers were recalled, and a new era began, when Pakistan faced Bishen Singh Bedi’s Indian team in 1978. It was a well-publicised series with full TV and print media coverage. Pakistan drubbed India – a high point in the popularity of Pakistani cricket.
From 1978 to 1992, internal rivalries and claims and counter-claims for captaincy caused fissures. Stability returned when Imran Khan was brought in as captain in 1981. Other than a break of a couple of years due to injury, Imran mostly led the team to wins. Javed Miandad and Abdul Qadir pitched in with occasional brilliant performances. Defeating India in India and England in England, and, most importantly, winning the 1992 World Cup are the high points of an era that undoubtedly belonged to Khan. He did not tolerate meddling from the cricket board in team affairs. He had the final say in team selections.
Imran’s cricketing prowess made him a phenomenon. Though he bade farewell to international cricket in 1992, he left behind his progeny in Wasim Akram, Waqar Yunas and Inzamamul Haq.
The bad days returned after Khan’s retirement. Captaincy became a sore point. Numerous world-class players like Mohammad Yousaf, Saeed Anwar, Younis Khan and Shoaib Akhtar played for Pakistan, but no successful team was forged. The ghosts of ball-tampering, match-fixing and spot-fixing kept haunting the team. The PCB was used for political patronage. People like Nasim Ashraf and Ijaz Butt are stark examples of that trend.
But, finally, with Misbah-ul-Haq assuming the reins of captaincy, the team seems to have found a bearing.
Oborne investigates the impact of terrorism on Pakistan cricket as well. It is important to mention that Oborne tells us the story of Pakistan cricket couched in political context.
One hopes Sheheryar Khan as chairman of the board will be successful in ending cricket’s pariah status.
Peter Oborne ends his account by a wish to see other teams start visiting Pakistan – because, indeed, cricket represents its national self.