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
44

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

  • 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".

  • 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).

  • 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...

  • 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!

  • on October 9, 2011, 16:54 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • 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".

  • 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).

  • 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...

  • 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!

  • on October 9, 2011, 16:54 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • on October 9, 2011, 15:16 GMT

    @Sanjiv ... highly unlikely to be an Indian though ;)

  • on October 9, 2011, 15:13 GMT

    I dont know why some Indians are angry about ur comments about sachin, because when sachin was walking off, indian commentators were saying that Indian players are more worry about there safety then saving game.not only sachin but everyone was so eager leave the field, i dont know why, WE WILL MISS U SHOAIB U MADE US PROUD, AND STAYED HONEST TO PAK. THATS ALL WE CARE ABOUT;

  • on October 9, 2011, 13:09 GMT

    Keep waiting shoaib, one day someone will break your record and u will b no longer a speedstar. People remember you coz of your speed not of your performance.

  • on October 9, 2011, 13:02 GMT

    I am surely going to chip in Rs-499 to get me my copy of the book. :D:D he was great to watch, and surely he will be great to read as well. A pure entertainer on and off the field :D

  • smudgeon on October 9, 2011, 9:57 GMT

    it's a great shame that ego & poor decisions curtailed his career, he was a real livewire. I wouldn't mind giving this a read though, I don't think i could stand reading a cricket bio that was all about ball-by-ball analysis & field placings. more interesting to get an idea of the man himself.

  • wasim_007 on October 9, 2011, 4:30 GMT

    Very good review, I have read the book and can't not stop it reading....the book is from heart and I would appeal to Indians to read the book...he has said nothing wrong...about anyone....we love your lightening speed...Cricket is live only because of Fast Bowler...otherwise the batsman would hit every ball by stepping out from the crease...only Fast bowler have kept them in shell....I would suggest and request to ICC to create lively pitch then you can judge the quality of batsman...Long live SHOAIB AKHTAR...Long Live SHAHID AFRIDI....

  • Masking_Tape on October 9, 2011, 2:43 GMT

    A bad-boy of cricket, that cricket badly needed. Ya, ya, cricket is a gentlemen's game, BLAH! Boring! We have enough nice (aka dull) guys in cricket. He was good for the crowd. He took the the batsmen along with the crowd right behind him.

    Now we are in need of a bad-boy again. Who has the guts to do what he did? Show up!

  • on October 9, 2011, 2:32 GMT

    I have read his book and the hero that I had adored for over a decade made good. Excellent review Saad!!! Shoaib, have a great retirement.

  • Desihungama on October 8, 2011, 23:54 GMT

    He made the audience feel as if it's them gunning at full speed to the opponent. 106kmp is a damn fast ball. Why don't you ask a man stand there and throw a rock at you at 100 Miles per Hour.

  • Rakim on October 8, 2011, 22:45 GMT

    Hate it or love it, this guy is legend for many. And he has a right to say his opinion about others. If you don't like this opinion, then it's your problem. Whole cricket world always remember you Shoaib, in a unique way. Wish you best of luck ;)

  • IPSY on October 8, 2011, 21:36 GMT

    It is a pity that Shoaib Akhtar was not more a servant of the game than just one who wanted to show-off his awesome pace - he would surely have been among the group of all time greats. He is correct to say that many batsmen who played against him were afraid of him; including Sachin Tendulkar who literally surrendered his wicket to him at Faisabad in January, 2006 - the first time Tendulkar walked in his 17 year career. It was the first time also that I was seeing a batsman being so highly rated in international cricket walking away from his wicket, having declared himself 'OUT' without the bowler getting his wicket. I think that that particular incident would give him lots of pleasure in the aftermath of his career, as situation as this is exactly what made him happy during his career.

  • honestno2 on October 8, 2011, 19:55 GMT

    Shoaib was a true fast bowler and match winner....and haf won more matches then Tendulker haf won for India (no disrespect to great man).....he prefer quality over quantity.....he is not a rude person but he is straight forward and honest....U wl be rememberd Shoaib bhai......love you !!!

  • on October 8, 2011, 18:35 GMT

    Well done Saad. I have read the book and this certainly is a very good review.

  • on October 8, 2011, 17:08 GMT

    yes to a degree he did wasted his potential but he will always be rem. for his love for speed and being the fastest ever in international

  • on October 8, 2011, 16:16 GMT

    Shoaib Akhtar is the world fastest and greatest bowler and he Played for Pakistan and made Pakistan proud the sad thing is he was dropped in the semi final against India and i was so sad when he was not selected in the final eleven because Pakistan would have won if Shoaib Akhtar was playing

  • on October 8, 2011, 14:56 GMT

    He was like marmite..you either loved him or hated him...I for one absolutely hated him...a bowler who forever throughout his patchy career record obsessed with breaking speed barriers and playing for himself as opposed to the team...he was only interested in playing cricket for Pakistan not through national duty but for what he could get out of the game..money, popularity, girls, fame whatever..there is a good reason that he is never mentioned alongside the greats of waqar, wasim and imran.

  • sharidas on October 8, 2011, 13:37 GMT

    It was always exciting to watch Shoaib bowling. His sole emphasis was on speed, which might have been the reason, that he reached his retirement with less than 200 wickets in Test Matches. There is nothing to be ashamed of,if any batsmen felt insecure, facing him. A ball leaving the bowlers hand at around 160Kms per hour would reach the batsmen extremely quick and should it be a short pitched one, the first consideration would be to avoid being hit. If he has his opinions about Tendulkar or Dravid, why should it upset anyone. Both the batsmen have Records which are fantastic. Shoaib was a terrifying bowler, but not in th class of Imran Khan , Wasim Akram etc. I wish him all the best, and hope his Book sells well. After all one needs a bit of spice to sell something !

  • on October 8, 2011, 8:48 GMT

    hes a real hero......on and off the field.......always gets attention :)......love u shoaib always...... have a great retirement life

  • on October 8, 2011, 8:47 GMT

    Shoaib is definitely one of the best example of waisted and spoiled talent. But also a man with courage to speak spade for spade without worrying much about consequences. But he definitely lacks few qualities as a subcontinent player like he is not pragmatic enough to adjust few things with his board or he was not a player who could take and sustain the pressure. On the other hand players like Sachin and Dravid carried the burden of nation and tried to deliver every time. Most of the overseas wins of test cricket was heavily contributed by Dravid. On the other hand Sachin is highest run scorer as an opener in most of his world cup matches. I will be happy to have comparison with other opening batsmen around the word from same era. Which opening batsman around the world was best finisher? question itself is wrong as finishing is usually done by lower middle order batsmen. Sachin and his greatness is well accepted by most of the so called cricket greats so Shoaib's opinion hardly matters

  • Dilmah82 on October 8, 2011, 8:36 GMT

    Will there be any official book launches in the UK?

  • Gupta.Ankur on October 8, 2011, 8:33 GMT

    One thing which comes to your mind when you think about shoaib.......is that a great talent got wasted........

    Shoaib, like many players from small towns........get lured into cricket for quick money and loose their way, once they get into limelight.....

    And as for his swipe against Dravid and Sachin........we all know its a marketing gimmick.....

  • on October 8, 2011, 7:39 GMT

    Shoaib, We love you, and you are right in saying that, batsmen were scared of you.

  • Wazirabadi on October 8, 2011, 7:33 GMT

    Once in a while you come across phenomena, a moment of joy and you remember that for rest of your life. Whether it's Waism Akaram in 1992 WC final , Sachin/ Sehwag in 2003 world cup in SA hammering Pak attack. Inzi inning against BD in Multan or Hussy in T20 semi final when he took liking to Saeed Ajmal. In case of Shoaib it was Calcutta when he got Dravid & Sachin out on consecutive deliveries. I remember Shoaib against Australia. He made Matthew Hayden and Justin langer dance Yes, the man is a product of faulty system. To survive in such environment you have to show aggression. Since the system is not based on merit and it lacks professionalism, you will get controversial characters. I rather see 1 over of Shoaib or Brett Lee rather then 20 over of military medium. We will not see real- pace on dead pitches. Shoaib caused headlines, sometime for the wrong reason. Let's give the guy credit, he brought passion and unpredictability to cricket.

  • wasim_007 on October 8, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    It was treat to watch him steaming to bowl to the batsman and every time he run into the stumps crowd supported him ...what a man....Very first I want to suggest all people who have some interest then read his book and then comment..if you can't buy you can borrow...He is God gift to world of cricket...and so for cricket lover...He has been liked around the Globe....Whatever he said that is very true...not only batsman gets scared while facing him...but the Coach, Captain..the spectator in Stadium and the miles away (TV Spectator) feels the heat and gets scared....Ask Gilly, Jayasurya...Gibbs, Gary, Ponting...Flower broter...and above all BC Lara....He also gave insight to PCB and Team...that can be sense from outside...he gave the proof. I would appeal to Akhtar to come out and Play SA T20 , Big Bash, England T20 and a lot so that we can get another chance to see him....LONG LIVE SHOAIB...

  • on October 8, 2011, 7:11 GMT

    will read this boom after reading this this review !!

  • on October 8, 2011, 7:02 GMT

    controversial cricketer!!!

  • nlambda on October 8, 2011, 6:59 GMT

    Waqar Younis summed it up in 2003 after Shoaib had said things about him post-WC: "he performs to his potential once a year and thinks he is better than anybody else". Shoaib was quick, but a great bowler he was not. Once people got used to his pace he was a largely ineffective player. One spell here and another there comes to most bowlers.

  • HEARTOUT on October 8, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    Well written book.......not many ppl have courage to reveal themselves so openly for everyone and we should not forget the fact that he was not born in England or Australia where he would have nursed for keeping his career long........ Among all great bowlers during that period he has made himself count when waqar wasim were there and more importantly whenever you talk about Thompson, Holding,Joel Garner or any all time great fast bowlers you will find Shoaib there and thats what he done so effrotlessly which many people just dream after long careers.

  • vatsap on October 8, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    Brilliant fast bowler and there is no shame in saying batsmen quaked in their boots when facing him. If he was Australian, no one would have bothered about bad behaviour or controversy ... all that was needed was to go out and bowl fast and would have surely taken 400+ wickets. Some sort of father figure/mentor would have helped. A great entertainer.

  • on October 8, 2011, 6:32 GMT

    Perhaps the most Loved Pakistani cricketer in india after Imran,Wasim and Saqlain.

  • on October 8, 2011, 5:46 GMT

    HATE him how ever much you want to off the field, but you simply can't stop admiring the man when he has the leather cricket ball in his hands on the field!!!

  • satanswish on October 8, 2011, 5:07 GMT

    Shoaib was at his prime during 1998-99 season during SA & Indian tour. He'd have almost won 1999WC for Pakistan. Later, he was never seen at his best. Yet another talent wasted by Pakistan.

  • on October 8, 2011, 4:27 GMT

    nice to see shoaib shared his feelings and experience he had for all these years. i hope Pakistan cricket had better use of his abilities. but he still being loved by cricket fans around the world

  • nktoofan on October 8, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    Surprise to see no comments yet, none the less Shoaib was a great bowler and a colorful character who will remain in the memories of cricket fans for long...

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  • nktoofan on October 8, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    Surprise to see no comments yet, none the less Shoaib was a great bowler and a colorful character who will remain in the memories of cricket fans for long...

  • on October 8, 2011, 4:27 GMT

    nice to see shoaib shared his feelings and experience he had for all these years. i hope Pakistan cricket had better use of his abilities. but he still being loved by cricket fans around the world

  • satanswish on October 8, 2011, 5:07 GMT

    Shoaib was at his prime during 1998-99 season during SA & Indian tour. He'd have almost won 1999WC for Pakistan. Later, he was never seen at his best. Yet another talent wasted by Pakistan.

  • on October 8, 2011, 5:46 GMT

    HATE him how ever much you want to off the field, but you simply can't stop admiring the man when he has the leather cricket ball in his hands on the field!!!

  • on October 8, 2011, 6:32 GMT

    Perhaps the most Loved Pakistani cricketer in india after Imran,Wasim and Saqlain.

  • vatsap on October 8, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    Brilliant fast bowler and there is no shame in saying batsmen quaked in their boots when facing him. If he was Australian, no one would have bothered about bad behaviour or controversy ... all that was needed was to go out and bowl fast and would have surely taken 400+ wickets. Some sort of father figure/mentor would have helped. A great entertainer.

  • HEARTOUT on October 8, 2011, 6:50 GMT

    Well written book.......not many ppl have courage to reveal themselves so openly for everyone and we should not forget the fact that he was not born in England or Australia where he would have nursed for keeping his career long........ Among all great bowlers during that period he has made himself count when waqar wasim were there and more importantly whenever you talk about Thompson, Holding,Joel Garner or any all time great fast bowlers you will find Shoaib there and thats what he done so effrotlessly which many people just dream after long careers.

  • nlambda on October 8, 2011, 6:59 GMT

    Waqar Younis summed it up in 2003 after Shoaib had said things about him post-WC: "he performs to his potential once a year and thinks he is better than anybody else". Shoaib was quick, but a great bowler he was not. Once people got used to his pace he was a largely ineffective player. One spell here and another there comes to most bowlers.

  • on October 8, 2011, 7:02 GMT

    controversial cricketer!!!

  • on October 8, 2011, 7:11 GMT

    will read this boom after reading this this review !!