Shoaib Akhtar: Controversially Yours October 8, 2011

Shoaib sells the drama

The furores artfully drummed up to hawk this book might obscure that it's a cracking read. More's the pity
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The first thing you realise when you read Shoaib Akhtar's autobiography is that much of the media reaction to it is a distraction from the book's true merits. Yes, he has admitted to ball-tampering, delivered questionable opinions on Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, and blasted some of the high priests of Pakistan cricket. But he has also said a great deal that is more interesting, more important, and evidently more heartfelt.

As a device to enhance your pleasure of the game, this book delivers. Perhaps the most absorbing, at times even riveting, parts of it are the first four chapters, which detail Shoaib's ordeals before he became a celebrity. He was born into modest circumstances, a sickly child who at one point nearly died of whooping cough. The family struggled with money and would sometimes go hungry.

Despite the financial constraints, his parents worked hard to instill upright values in the children and ensure them an education. Shoaib tells us he was an ace student, and also a natural prankster. As a result, he was frequently in trouble. The pattern of conflicts that marked his international career was set early on.

Cricket did not become a focus until his teenage years, when Shoaib's passion for bowling fast was unleashed. Before that, he played informal street games, including gilli-danda, and ran a lot - everywhere, aimlessly - because it made him feel free. Once he discovered cricket, he was drawn to role models, finding instant inspiration in Imran Khan's dynamic and towering figure. At the Pindi Club he saw his idols Imran, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis practise under lights. That was when he made a personal vow to don the Pakistan colours.

All through the book Shoaib confronts his bad-boy image head-on, but his reflections are unlikely to sway anyone. He admits having little patience for rules and regulations, resents being preached to, and hates restrictions of any kind. He complains about never having had a proper mentor, but more likely it would not have been possible for even the most well-meaning mentor to get through to him.

His self-indulgent nature comes across loudly, as we are told of his love for money, girls, and even his own company. Speed, above everything, is his true love, and garners a long chapter by itself. All this underscores his ability to polarise. Shoaib's supporters will find him refreshingly honest; his detractors will deride him for confirming their worst assumptions.

When we come to the chapters covering his international career, it is disappointing to see a lack of serious introspection. All his great spells are glossed over, leaving the connoisseur unfulfilled. You keep expecting to be placed inside the fast bowler's head as he psycho-analyses the batsman, adjusts the field, and contemplates his wicket-taking plans, but it never happens. Shoaib could have entertained his readers with a ringside view of these intricacies; it feels like a golden opportunity lost. Also slightly disappointing are the book's occasional typos and misspellings. The persistent insertion of a hyphen between "T" and "20" is especially grating.

Nevertheless the overall package is a highly enjoyable one. Co-author Anshu Dogra has polished the material into a coherent and flowing narrative, yet still allowed Shoaib's first-person voice to be heard clearly. Urdu and Punjabi phrases are interspersed here and there, conveying the thought precisely and to the understanding reader's great amusement.

Anecdotes, often the choicest part of a memoir, are peppered throughout. There are accounts of Shoaib in college as he drives a motorbike through the principal's office, gets suspended for playing cricket in front of the girls' building, and convinces a channa wala to serve him free meals because one day Shoaib will be a famous cricketer.

Shoaib tells us about the anxiety of appearing for domestic cricket trials in Lahore, and the joy of catching the eye of Zaheer Abbas. We learn how, just before breaking into Test cricket, he spent an emotionally wrenching period in Karachi rooming with his buddy Saqlain Mushtaq when they were struggling cricketers and the city was in turmoil.

The book's tone is sometimes conversational, sometimes argumentative, with seamless transitions into languid storytelling one minute, breathless rhetoric the next. In this, the narrator sounds every bit the Shoaib Akhtar we know from his public persona.

Every now and then there is also some touching human moment - getting tongue-tied when an attractive Irish girl starts a conversation in a bar, buying his first car, looking up an old benefactor after becoming a star, revisiting old haunts in his hometown of Rawalpindi.

Naturally there is a good deal of score-settling as well, some of which - including targeted jabs at the likes of Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad, and Tendulkar - has been the subject of recent news cycles. Among all these, I found the description of Shoaib's administrative duel with former PCB chairman Nasim Ashraf particularly valuable. The drama is vividly sketched over several pages as Shoaib struggles and eventually succeeds in getting his PCB-enforced ban reversed by pulling political strings. His account provides sharp insight into Pakistan cricket's backroom ploys and validates a great deal of drawing-room chatter.

All said and done, you have to commend the man for a job well done. The very appearance of his book is a feat in itself: written output from Pakistan's cricketers has been sparse. Shoaib may have carried an image of carefree indiscipline for most of his career, but he has certainly demonstrated he has the discipline to produce a book with impact. In this he has outdone several other famous cricketing names from Pakistan.

Controversially Yours
Shoaib Akhtar
Harper Collins, 2011
Rs 499, 272pp

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on October 11, 2011, 13:39 GMT

    @ryan remember ross taylor got dropped twice , those catches were normal catches for any keeper and you should b thankful to kamran akmal ... thats why we say , always tell the full story not the part that you liked .....

  • Rakim on October 10, 2011, 17:42 GMT

    @ryan phillip, watch his record against NZ....

  • cricket1122 on October 10, 2011, 17:22 GMT

    The title of the book is too long. A shorter and more apt title is "28 Last Over".

  • dummy4fb on October 10, 2011, 15:22 GMT

    Shoaib..this is the only way to get publicity for you now. Sachin never comments on such kind of things... thats why he is GENTLEMAN in Cricket. We expect another book from u. ;) (Plz mention abt ur last over to Ross Taylor against NZ in WC)

  • SaudAlvi on October 10, 2011, 14:13 GMT

    @ Saswat Praharaj - Agree - Also the comments are being twisted, what he has stated is his opinion nothing more - in the same breath (in post book interviews ) he regards Sachin as one of the greatest of all times. Not being a "match winner" is something few Indian and many Pakistani viewers of the game talk about (aus/english don't even deserve a mention).. but frankly they expect Sachin to be god and win it all with one swing of the bat (which he does but not often enough for there liking).

  • dummy4fb on October 10, 2011, 4:33 GMT

    I loved Sohaib's bowling. He was a fantastic pace bowler especially after he added that slower ball to his bowling variations. I don't agree with his observations that Sachin was scared of him. Obviously Sachin would have wanted to see him through in many situations. That doesn't mean he was afraid.

    Also, Sohaib probably didn't see Sachin of the 90s to make a foolish statement that Sachin wasn't a match winner. A nation of 120 crores won't worship a man unless he was winning matches for them. Sachin has truly been the greatest cricketer of India and one of the all time greats of the game.

    In any case Sohaib is entitled to his opinion and what he thinks about Sachin. Indian media,cricket board and general public unnecessarily made a big fuss about it.

    I hope his book becomes a best seller - Good luck Sohaib , Hope you make tons of money with this book. You deserve more respect and more money than these 130 mph bowlers who are earning in millions because of IPL.

  • praks1311 on October 9, 2011, 19:35 GMT

    @Syed Hassaan Ahmen... I agree chances of an Indian breaking shoaib's record are as much as Pakistan beating India in a wc...

  • dummy4fb on October 9, 2011, 19:03 GMT

    I am reading it and though I find the language like a class 7 student essay writing but it seems very much Shoaib! He sort of has a tendency of providing excuses for his mistakes but every bit of book sounds honest and innocent. I m enjoying my read!

  • dummy4fb on October 9, 2011, 16:54 GMT

    A true legend, a true hero and more undoubtedly an honest man - That's Shaoib

  • dummy4fb on October 9, 2011, 15:31 GMT

    Akhtar creating a false controversy to sell his book and looking to earn huge money. If a true cricketer he could say before retire.

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