The book is amply clear about how conspiracies and the accompanying shadow-boxing slugs had almost destroyed Pakistan cricket for more than a decade from the early 1990s till the mid-2000s
There is no doubt about the fact that Wasim Akram was an obscenely talented all-round cricketer and a supreme athlete. His book ‘Sultan’ in collaboration with Gideon Haigh, one of the finest sports writers in the world, is a tribute to the fabulous journey in, through, and up the cricketing ladder of the former. It starts from Wasim’s growth in Ahmedpura, Mozang, Lahore, where he lived cheek-by-jowl with his mother’s maternal family after the separation of his parents, being very close to his maternal grandmother. The book is very rich in how Wasim Akram became the bowler of swing, guile, accuracy, speed, bounce and infinite variations from the tape-ball originations in the crowded lanes and bylanes of the old city of Lahore. Amongst the very many things which become evident from the book, several are sure shot to be an affront to the state of Pakistan, the people of Pakistan and the players of Pakistan, past and present. But then they are an honest commentary about the naked reality of Pakistan. That Wasim talks about the perennial insecurity of life, limb and lips within the state and the society of Pakistan, is an umpteenth reaffirmation of the basic trundling nature, from one crisis to another, of that country of 220 million.
Conspiracies, conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists are what the functional DNA of Pakistan is. The book is amply clear about how conspiracies and the accompanying shadow-boxing slugs had almost destroyed Pakistan cricket for more than a decade from the early 1990s till the mid-2000s, in which Wasim himself had become the centre of the cesspool. It is an absolute reality that fans are what makes cricket the cricket in the Indian subcontinent. They love and laugh with the cricketers, godify them, but are highly intolerant of the players’ fallibilities on and off the playing arena. Pakistani populace in this regard become too much of a bugbear, with their innocence, ignorance and intemperateness, for the playing players.
Pakistan cricket for much of its history has dwelt and thrived despite having any base to support its budding players. Most of the up-and-coming players hardly have any brush with professional clubs and coaches, because of their poor and marginal backgrounds. It goes to the credit of those players’ raw talent that they make it, despite the odds of regionalism, classism and severe feudalism within the ranks of selectors and selection committees. As Wasim has put it and is a known fact, Pakistani players are vernacular in their habits and habitat. In this context, Wasim has the ability to laugh at himself, giving examples from his air journey to New Zealand for his first overseas tour and his innocent questions to Javed Miandad about the insecurity of managing the finances or his tussle with Saleem Malik, a talented batsman of Pakistan, on trying to bring a girl into his shared room. It is this rawness and obliviousness to the world’s hard and hideous ways that has rendered, and still does, the players of Pakistan vulnerable to the big bad world of cheating, booking and corruption.
The book is very poignant, betwixt emotional and reminiscing, about Wasim’s late Wife, Huma Mufti, who died in October 2009 because of Mucormycosis infection. Wasim has called her the biggest selfless influence in his life, who not just was a mother to his two sons, but also the undaunted support for him through the thick and thin of life. It also talks about how Wasim was mulling a divorce from Huma when the latter had relentlessly forced him to undergo rehabilitation against Cocaine addiction in his post-retirement days, just before her death and how she persisted in helping Wasim to rid himself of the no-let-up addiction.
Most importantly, the book is thorough about the nitty-gritty of betting and booking, alongside the nasty fake news, as was in the Pakistani cricket circles post-1992. One is surprised and shocked to learn about the rampant inroads that the bookie network had made into cricket all across the world during this period. Wasim has malice against one and all of his fellow players during this tumultuous time. Inzamam, Saeed Anwar, leggie Mushtaq Ahmad, Waqar Younus, Javed Miandad, Ramiz Raja, etc all have been named by him. But he has taken Aamir Sohail, Saleem Malik, Javed Miandad and Rashid Latif as his chosen targets. In his view, they were all very niggardly, schematic and jealous. While one has every reason to call his narrative about the machinations and corruption a one-sided version, it is also true that he never underperformed during those tough times. It begs a question: why would he perform had he been compromised? He is effusive about Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi, being friendly with and helping towards them, but both of them in their respective books, ‘Controversially Yours’ and ‘ Game Changer’, respectively, have written about him being a discouraging figure and the success having gone into his head.
Imran Khan is his idol throughout his playing career and later. He is presented by the author as sophisticated, studied, flamboyant, hardworking, focused and mission-driven. It looks like the closeness with Imran has brushed a degree of classist tinge on Wasim Akram. That still comes through while he commentates and narrates his stories about his ex-fellow players.
Wasim wasn’t just a great bowler and more than a slogger, he comes through as an amiably fierce competitor to all his opposition players. While his duels with Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara are well-documented, he has a world of respect for them. He has termed New Zealand’s former Captain, Martin Crowe to be the hardest batsman to bowl at. He has called Viv Richards to be the gutsiest player he has bowled to. Additionally, he talks about the acknowledgment of the greatness of his opponents as his abiding trait, which helped him in becoming the Wasim Akram that the world knows today.
As for his numbers, they are simply mind-boggling. 916 international wickets, 881 first-class test matches, more than 6500 runs in international cricket, etc are bound to let him be featured in any All-time XI. Those numbers could have been buoyed by several substantial percentage points, but for the eons-old poor fielding problem of the Pakistan cricket team and the blindsided, partisan and partial umpiring, so very central in the playing days of Wasim.
Wasim is married to an Australian, Shaniera Thompson, today, 15 years his junior. He is in a happy space today, with his three children and wife, 2 boys from his first marriage and a girl from his present marriage. Several years ago, his car was shot at in Karachi, where he lives now. After registering a case against the guilty, it later turned out that the person who had shoved out the bullet had an army background. Wasim is counselled against pursuing the case any further without raising any murmur. Wasim has called it to be the original nature of Pakistan.
Pakistan cricket is alive and playing today, despite the deep fragmentation and fractures within the players and between the players and the Pakistan Cricket Board that have continued to dog it. Wasim is on talking terms with all his ex-colleagues today. The Deus ex machina in all of such instances is the unsophisticated ability of the people to refute and shed the dangerous streak of hatred from within them as quickly as it gets into them.
Postscript:- There is a lot more in the book than this review can sum up. The one prominent souring agent throughout the book is its degree of monotonicity and visualising a victim in Wasim all the time.
I rate the book 3.75 out of 5.
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