The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket
THERE IS a section in Osman Samiuddin’s compelling book, The Unquiet Ones: The History of Pakistan Cricket, that talks in great detail of the balmy afternoon in 1986 that all Indian fans would like to forget. The stage was the final of the inaugural Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah. Pakistan, playing arch-rivals India, needed 246 for a win. They got off to the worst possible start, losing opener Mudasar Nasar early. They kept losing wickets at regular intervals and, at one stage, required more than nine runs per over to win the match. Kapil Dev’s men were the world champions. The match looked like a foregone conclusion, but the presence of Pakistan’s maverick batsman Javed Miandad was an irritant for Dev’s men. For the better part of his innings, Miandad was subdued, but rock-solid, dealing in his currency of collecting runs in a rather nonchalant manner. The match finally boiled down to the last ball in which Pakistan required four runs to win the match. Chetan Sharma was the bowler and facing him was the maverick himself.
Sharma wanted to ball a yorker, which ended up being a waist-high full-toss. The 28-year-old smashed it over mid-wicket for a six. Arms raised, a wide toothy grin, but, most importantly, a job well done. The final of the Austral-Asia Cup, in many ways, typifies Pakistan cricket and the glorious uncertainties that came along with it. The book follows Sharma’s view on the last-ball fiasco. Travelling in a train several years later, the former India medium pacer takes the incident in his stride when he tells a journalist over beer: “Yaar, I just wanted to ball a yorker.”
Samiuddin’s The Unquiet Ones is replete with many such interesting anecdotes that chronicle Pakistan’s cricket in the past years. Laced with popular cultural, political and historical references, the book gives an exhaustive account of the complex maze in Pakistan cricket.
Like other cricket-playing nations, Pakistan, too, had its fair share of mercurial personalities who played a key role in shaping its cricket. Samiuddin’s book is, in many ways, an in-depth study into these intriguing cricketers. From Abdul Hafeez Kardar, who captained Pakistan in its formative years to Fazal Mahmood and then to Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.
Samiuddin uses Khan and Miandad as templates to explain the intense Lahore-Karachi rivalry that has been the defining point of Pakistan cricket. Khan, from Lahore, was dictatorial, almost aloof in his approach, writes Samiuddin. Karachi native Miandad, on the other hand, was a maverick and street-smart. The two were instrumental in guiding Pakistan to its famous World Cup win in Australia 23 years ago. The writer uses concepts such as izzat, mujahir and Pakistan nationalism to describe Miandad. When he made his international debut in 1975, he was hailed as the ‘find of the decade’. Over the next two decades, he went on to become one of the most influential cricketers in Pakistan, and a shrewd captain with a rare tactical acumen.
Khan’s rise in international cricket, on the other hand, was not spectacular. When he finally hit his straps, he went on to become one of the greatest all-rounders in world cricket. His batting, Samiuddin says, was based on sound principles. As a fast bowler, he picked up an amazing 40 wickets in the six Tests against India in the 1982-83 series, which, Samiuddin says, was a ‘mind-altering’ moment. One of Samiuddin’s greatest accomplishment as a cricket writer is the delightful manner in which he describes Khan’s bowling action. “He ran in increasingly long strides, a run-up meticulously calculated over the years. It helped him gather momentum and then as he approached the umpire, the leap, so high, and from side on, it is an elegant portrait of taut human musculature,” he writes. He concludes by saying, “Imran’s action is a leaping study in the beauty and grace of the human form.”
Samiuddin also gives marvellous anecdotes on Khan, the captain. Waqar Younis recounts an incident from a Sharjah game against West Indies in 1991 when he was bowling the last over of the game and West Indies needed 10 runs. Patrick Patterson smashed the young fast bowler for a six over long-on and then collected two runs. West Indies now required two runs from three deliveries. A distraught Younis walked up to his captain stationed at mid-on for advice. “What now, skipper?” he asked. Khan simply walked away and said, “Do whatever you think is right.” Younis was taken aback. He then bowled straight and fast, and removed Ian Bishop off the final ball to register a famous win. “I felt that was the ultimate confidence boost I could be given by a captain,” Younis said.
Khan was a charismatic captain who led by example. He commanded respect and had a way of getting the best from his players. In the mid-80s, when Miandad was having a lean run against West Indies, Khan would taunt him for his string of low scores against them. His taunts spurred Miandad to score two consecutive centuries against West Indies in the 1988 series.
Again, before the final of the 1990 Austral-Asia Cup in Sharjah, Khan got an anonymous phone call, warning him that four of his players had been bought out by bookies. Khan gathered the players the next morning and warned them that if he felt any of the players were not performing to the expected standards, he would not only drop them, but would have them jailed. Pakistan won that match comfortably and everyone chipped in with hearty contributions.
The talk of match-fixing and player-bookie nexus began to acquire more substance after Khan’s retirement in 1992, when Salim Malik took over as captain. Samiuddin gets accounts of players and journalists to give us a wholesome view of the dark ages that followed the incredible World Cup triumph.
Quite symbolically, from a country, which is traditionally known to produce great fast bowlers, The Unquiet Ones ends with a chapter titled Live Fast, Bowl Faster. It talks about the rage of tape ball cricket, which played a key role in shaping the country’s fast bowlers.