Pakistan cricket: Two books, one history

Published February 1, 2015
Pakistan's  1992 World Cup winning team. — Photo: Patrick Eagar
Pakistan's 1992 World Cup winning team. — Photo: Patrick Eagar

It’s quite a pleasure to see two good reads on Pakistan’s cricket history appearing within a span of one year.

Us Pakistanis have not been very good in recording and preserving history, so much so, that in this day and age when a whole new generation is growing up with little or no knowledge of what life was like in Pakistan before the mid-1990s, one struggles to gather visual and scholarly material to compile something that would help the younger lot understand their immediate existential roots and those of their country’s culture, politics and even sports.

That’s why Osman Samiuddin’s The Unquiet Ones and Peter Oborne’s Wounded Tiger are welcome additions. Both books make it a point not to relate Pakistan’s cricket history in a vacuum. Instead they attempt to understand it as something that was impacted (and vice versa) by the ebb and flow of Pakistan’s politics and societal vibes and tides.

With the World Cup round the corner, what better time than this for delving deep into Pakistan’s cricketing culture and history

Osman Samiuddin is a young but an already well-known cricket journalist. He writes like a passionate cricket fan well-versed in the technicalities and nuances of the game. But he is also humorous enough to wittily explain the many absurdities that Pakistan’s cricketing history is riddled with.

His book, The Unquiet Ones, is like a knowledgeable fan’s history of Pakistan cricket, focusing more on the cultural, social and political dynamics that have driven Pakistani cricket teams and players, rather than on just static facts and stats.

In one seamless whoosh, Osman gathers and runs across the various controversies and idiosyncrasies associated with some of Pakistan cricket’s leading men, one-hit-wonders and obscure figures, using some fascinating anecdotes related over the years by former captains, batsmen, bowlers and chiefs of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

There is an utter lack of pretension to sound ‘analytical’ or punctuate the text with a mouthful of numbers. Instead, Osman seems to find a great deal of joy in unfolding the history of Pakistan cricket like a colourful monologue of a fan, revelling in the many interesting, funny, complicated and at times downright bizarre episodes that dot the countless rises and falls of Pakistan cricket. It is this that gives the book its charm.

Osman Samiuddin's The Unquiet Ones.
Osman Samiuddin's The Unquiet Ones.

The tone of the book is consistently upbeat, excited and armed with a strand of wit that makes The Unquiet Ones a youthful celebration of a wildly impulsive cricketing culture.

Osman does well to cover all aspects of this culture, right from the time of the emergence of Pakistan’s first Test captain, A.H. Kardar (in the early 1950s), all the way to the period that saw the blossoming of the team’s current skipper, Misbahul Haq.

The book is largely about interesting episodes involving captains, players, commentators, PCB chiefs and even those who were once stars of ‘street cricket’, especially in Karachi.

Where Osman’s book left one feeling stranded when he failed (or refused) to comment on the more thorny issues that plagued Pakistan cricket in the 2000s, Oborne’s book begins to lose steam once he begins to go past the mid-1980s period.

This is why The Unquiet Ones can be a rapid riot for fans curious about what takes place in dressing-rooms and on the cricket field that is not quite captured by stump microphones and TV cameras.

But then this is also exactly why when Osman’s book gallops towards the last decade or so of Pakistan cricket, one is left high and dry when he only nominally comments on one of the most controversial episodes in Pakistan cricket in the 2000s: The emergence of a highly exhibitionist strand of religiosity in the team during Inzimamul Haq’s captaincy (2003-2007).

One is not quite sure why Osman chose not to comment on this issue. But had he applied the anecdotal style that he has used in the book on this issue, he just might have been able to write perhaps the most interesting chapter on the subject, mainly carried by quotes and incidents related to the topic and to the men involved.

Osman’s history of Pakistan cricket is a people’s history. A fan’s version of the story of Pakistan cricket joyfully told with the help of the many amusing musings of former and current cricketers; and culled from old clippings from the now defunct cricket magazines and from the recordings of games and glimpses that best capture the sudden highs and the equally sudden lows of Pakistan cricket.

Unlike The Unquiet Ones however, Oborne’s Wounded Tiger is a more deliberate (and less spontaneous) effort. This is most probably due to the fact that it was written by a non-Pakistani — an outsider looking in.

Peter Oborne's Wounded Tiger.
Peter Oborne's Wounded Tiger.

Oborne, like so many non-Pakistani cricket fans, is quite clearly fascinated by the unpredictable and implosive nature of Pakistan’s cricketing culture. He is even more intrigued by how vividly this culture mirrors the dynamics of Pakistan’s politics and society.

His book is neatly and extensively researched and he carefully discloses the complexities of Pakistan’s political history and how these complexities have affected the many aspects and vagaries of the country’s cricketing scheme of things.

At least such is the deliberate and well-informed disposition of Oborne’s book until it begins to approach the 1992 Cricket World Cup that Pakistan won.

Where Osman’s book left one feeling stranded when he failed (or refused) to comment on the more thorny issues that plagued Pakistan cricket in the 2000s, Oborne’s book begins to lose steam once he begins to go past the mid-1980s period.

From being a detailed account it suddenly becomes a hasty wrap-up of Pakistan cricket’s last 20 years that are only thinly furnished by the already well-known summaries of matches played beyond the late 1980s.

It is as if Oborne lost interest, especially after describing in detail the 1982 player’s rebellion against Javed Miandad’s captaincy. After this the book becomes more of a compilation derived from newspaper précises about matches and issues such as match-fixing, captaincy tussles and the rise of religiosity between 2003 and 2007.

And that’s a shame, because had all of these issues been given the same scholarly treatment that Oborne gives to Pakistan cricket history between 1952 and 1985, this book might just have become one of the most comprehensive histories ever authored on Pakistan cricket.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 1st, 2015

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