Wednesday , 16 August 2017

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Is Pakistan playing ‘Muslim cricket’?

One of the positive fallouts of partition is our neighbour’s cricket team. Imagine how poor cricket would have been without Pakistan — no Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Abdul Qadir, Waqar Yunus and Wasim Akram. An akhand Bharat cricket team would have been, on paper, the strongest side in the world but such hopes have no roots in reality (Not that India had not played as an akhand Bharat team, with playing its first Test in England in 1932).
Today Pakistan cricket itself is without a home thanks to that nation’s troublesome tryst with terrorism. India has suspended its cricket relations with Pakistan after the gruesome terror attack in Mumbai in 2008. Soon, the rest of the world stopped visiting that blighted country. We stopped sending invitations to Pakistan cricketers for IPL.
But you can only regard Pakistan cricket with respect and a sense of envy for what that nation has contributed — it has been a land of cheeky, cocky innovators — think reverse swing, doosra, googly, neutral umpires, spot-fixing, match-fixing etc. In the words of Geoff Boycott, Pakistan bowlers could dismiss English cricketers even with an orange (he referred to Waqar Younis)!
The history of Pakistan cricket is about struggle, sacrifice (which in fact goes with any account of history) and often fratricide. It’s a rare cricket nation where the coach is found dead in his room after the national team’s improbable loss to a team in lower rungs (Ireland) during the World Cup (Bob Woolmer, 2007 World Cup).
Peter Oborne is right to call his well-researched and hugely sympathetic account of Pakistan cricket as Wounded Tiger, The History of Cricket In Pakistan (published by Simon & Schuster, Pages 592, Price 699). But it needs to be said that the wound is largely self-inflicted.
The success of Pakistan cricket is a direct result of the absence of a system. Had it been as regimented as Australia, England and India, Pakistan would not have produced a world champion side (Imran Khan’s band of men lifting the World Cup in 1992 was a case of inspired leadership and selection than a triumph of a streamlined domestic cricket). It’s jugaad such as tape ball cricket that keeps producing such awesome cricketers from Pakistan.
There is no doubt that Oborne, chief political commentator for The Daily Telegraph, is in love with Pakistan cricket, a love that is coloured by an anti-India sentiment, which makes him write trite as well as outlandish stuff. Towards the end, Oborne writes “This pride expresses itself through the cricket team, whose white clothing against a green field neatly matches the colours of the national flag.” How mushy can a historian get? What has Oborne to say about Pakistan team’s one-day and T20 colours? Will playing with a green-coloured cricket ball help Pakistan cricket’s cause? He almost falls short of suggesting Pakistan plays ‘Muslim cricket’ compared to other playing nations.
Oborne, it seems, is a born-again Pakistani. He writes, “Only a minute fraction of them (young Pakistani boys) escaped to play first-class, let alone Test cricket. Even today these young men remain a massive and very largely untapped ocean of cricketing potential. If Pakistan had the organisation (and the vision) to marshal them, it would overnight become the greatest cricketing nation.”
Such is Oborne’s adoration of Pakistan cricket that he accuses the late English writer Christopher Martin-Jenkins of bias, (after tearing into Shahsi Tharoor in his preface), for leaving Fazal Mahmood out of his list of the world’s 100 greatest cricketers.
May be Oborne has a point in writing this book. He begins his effort by saying “cricket writing about Pakistan has sometimes fallen into the wrong hands.”
Wounded Tiger, then, is an effort to free Pakistan cricket from the clutches of those wrong hands.