Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan August 16, 2014

The many stories of Pakistan cricket

A balanced account of the country's chaotic and often misunderstood cricketing history, from an outsider's perspective

Pakistan cricket has too often been subject to clichés and stereotypes in how it has been reported on in the West. As Peter Oborne observes in his new history, "Pakistan cricketers emerge as caricatures: Javed Miandad as a hooligan; Imran Khan as a princely scion in the tradition of Ranji; AH Kardar as a fanatic."

Partly, this reflects the reality that the game in Pakistan has historically been the subject of far fewer books than India, and there has been no equivalent to Ramachandra Guha's seminal A Corner of a Foreign Field. Oborne's work goes far to bridging that gap.

Wounded Tiger takes the story far beyond the World Cup triumph of Imran's "cornered tigers" in 1992. After partition in 1947, Pakistan had to wait five years for their first Test. Unlike virtually every other sport, cricket retains an anachronistic obsession with "status", and, as Ireland have discovered, status is about politics as much as on-pitch performance.

Oborne believes that Pakistan could easily have become a satellite Test country, with players qualifying to play Tests for India in much the same way that Irishmen qualify to play for England today. Every cricket fan should be inordinately grateful that Pakistan did not go down this route. A victory over the MCC in November 1951 was critical in creating a case for elevation. The win owed much to the fast bowler Fazal Mahmood, who but for the protection of the Indian cricketer CK Nayudu on a train from Poona to Bombay in September 1947, would probably have been killed by Hindu fanatics. Fazal and Kardar - who Oborne believes can "be classified with a very small group of cricketers who were nation-builders as well as sportsmen" - were the unbeaten batsmen when the win was secured. In July 1952, Pakistan were elected to membership of the Imperial Cricket Conference.

Yet even then, and after squaring their first Test series in England in 1954, Pakistan's schedule often remained barren. In the entire 1960s they only played 30 Tests, and topped up their total with unofficial "Tests" against Ceylon and Kenya.

Pakistan have to be equally inventive with their scheduling today. Oborne calls the post 9-11 era Pakistan cricket's Age of Isolation. Pakistan have used a range of homes from home - Sri Lanka, England and even New Zealand (where they played at times of the day designed for a Pakistani audience) - in recent years. They have now settled on the UAE, but this is still problematic. Oborne estimates that the opportunity cost of terrorist attacks, resulting in all tourists refusing to tour Pakistan, and India refusing to play Pakistan at all (though this stance has recently been relaxed) may have been as much as $80 million.

The isolation has created further problems, too. It necessitates players being away from home for 11 months a year, while, as Oborne notes, Saeed Ajmal has still yet to play a home Test. How much better would his, and Pakistan's, record be if he had done so?

The story of Pakistan cricket is far too diverse for a straight narrative to do it justice. Alongside the portrait of leading players - the author is particularly effusive in his praise for Miandad, noting that his win percentage at Test level was far superior to Imran's - critical themes are explored. After 1992, Oborne abandons the sequential approach altogether, "to reflect the exuberance and chaos of Pakistan cricket itself". Corruption on the pitch and periodic crises off it are addressed. But so too are more surprising - and heartening - aspects of the game in Pakistan: the development of women's cricket; and the expansion of cricket beyond the urbanised middle-class into the North West of the country in the past 35 years.

When he turns his attention to reverse swing, Oborne asserts "the cricket world did not really take notice of reverse swing until its victims started to complain about it". Few noticed when Wasim Akram enjoyed success for Lancashire with the technique. But when he combined with Waqar Younis to decimate England's middle and lower order in the 1992 Test series - the roll call of collapses included 6 for 42, 6 for 38 (both at Lord's), 9 for 50 (Headingley), 7 for 25 and 5 for 21 (both at The Oval) - it provoked outcry in much of the English press. "Laugh, not them, they're too prickly and nationalistic… Pakistanis being even hotter on apologies then they are in vindaloos," one Daily Mirror sportswriter wrote. This underscores Oborne's judgement that "cricket writing about Pakistan has sometimes fallen into the wrong hands. It has been carried out by people who do not like Pakistan, are suspicious of Pakistanis, and have their own preconceptions."

Criticism of "British condescension" to Pakistan is a common feature of the book. Oborne recounts the Shakoor Rana affair but also a lesser-known incident involving to the Pakistani umpire Idrees Baig in 1956. With England furious about Baig's decision - and about to lose a Test - Baig was forcibly taken to the room of an MCC cricketer, with over half the tour party in attendance, where he had buckets of water poured over him. The MCC did their best to ignore the incident; it was not even mentioned when the squad was summoned to Lord's after the tour.

This is just one of many surprises in a pulsating account of Pakistan cricket. It is a shame, though, that a few sloppy mistakes slip in: one sentence refers to "papers on energy policy, landholding reform and energy policy". More attention could perhaps have been paid to the significance of the T20 revolution in Pakistan and its domestic cricket. And on occasion the book reverts to a straight narrative of Test matches and series.

But none of this obscures Oborne's magnificent achievement in producing a book that is as enchanting as the cricket it describes. And for all the divergent problems of Pakistan cricket, the narrative is uplifting and full of hope. Cricket "is enjoyed by all of Pakistan's sects and religions," Oborne writes. "It is part of Pakistan's history and also its future."

Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan
by Peter Oborne
Simon and Schuster
592 pages, £25

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on December 27, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    just finished reading this magnificent book and I commend it to everyone here. However much you know about Pakistan cricket it will bring you new insight.

  • on August 16, 2014, 4:49 GMT

    Haven't read the book yet but the excerpts show that finally someone has given words to my thoughts. Isolation of Pakistan is the story of our life. English condescension has always surprised me. How on earth can someone criticise reverse swing, the greatest innovation ever to grace fast bowling. IK said of the English media during the '87 tour that he could not understand why they treated our players the way they did. Not him ofcourse, his charisma worked on them as well, but the other players. I am not saying that Pakistan cricket is without it's faults, like all the teams in the world, it's just that our problems get exaggerated so much. And the security situation, as if there wasn't enough going on already, has left our cricket crippling. Here is hoping for resurgence of the most entertaining team of the world.

  • on December 27, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    just finished reading this magnificent book and I commend it to everyone here. However much you know about Pakistan cricket it will bring you new insight.

  • on August 16, 2014, 4:49 GMT

    Haven't read the book yet but the excerpts show that finally someone has given words to my thoughts. Isolation of Pakistan is the story of our life. English condescension has always surprised me. How on earth can someone criticise reverse swing, the greatest innovation ever to grace fast bowling. IK said of the English media during the '87 tour that he could not understand why they treated our players the way they did. Not him ofcourse, his charisma worked on them as well, but the other players. I am not saying that Pakistan cricket is without it's faults, like all the teams in the world, it's just that our problems get exaggerated so much. And the security situation, as if there wasn't enough going on already, has left our cricket crippling. Here is hoping for resurgence of the most entertaining team of the world.

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  • on August 16, 2014, 4:49 GMT

    Haven't read the book yet but the excerpts show that finally someone has given words to my thoughts. Isolation of Pakistan is the story of our life. English condescension has always surprised me. How on earth can someone criticise reverse swing, the greatest innovation ever to grace fast bowling. IK said of the English media during the '87 tour that he could not understand why they treated our players the way they did. Not him ofcourse, his charisma worked on them as well, but the other players. I am not saying that Pakistan cricket is without it's faults, like all the teams in the world, it's just that our problems get exaggerated so much. And the security situation, as if there wasn't enough going on already, has left our cricket crippling. Here is hoping for resurgence of the most entertaining team of the world.

  • on December 27, 2014, 18:58 GMT

    just finished reading this magnificent book and I commend it to everyone here. However much you know about Pakistan cricket it will bring you new insight.