Looking at Pakistani history through the lens of cricket


Richard Heller and Peter Oborne take you through a fascinating experience of Pakistan’s history as they weave the threads of the country’s past by analysing the impact of cricket on a country which has few other topics that unite or divide its people with such massive effect. After Oborne’s acclaimed Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan, the present book, co-authored by Oborne, comes as a refreshing treat. It is an attempt to let the heroes of Pakistan’s cricketing past herald the true character of the country and its people. The book traces the span from the early 1930s up until the recent years. As circumstances changed, the country transformed, leading to several landmark events which brought to the fore some of the most revered of Pakistani cricketers. Master Aziz Durani, who was separated from his son, Salim, before Partition, went to Karachi and coached young cricketers throughout his life. Salim Durani grew up to become one of the most famous Test players in India while his father guided Mohammad Hanif and the other four Mohammad brothers to cricketing zeniths. The Khan sisters rightfully find a mention for bravely leading a campaign for women’s cricket in Pakistan. 


The story of Pakistani cricket is one of extreme highs and lows. It is deeply and perpetually dramatic which never ceases to interest the reader. The narrative reels between the dizzying heights of triumph to the abysmal lows of defeat where champions take up the mantle of villains and vice-versa in front of a passionate and fickle mass of millions who adore and often loathe them.

“Pakistan cricket supporters, we believe, are more likely than those of any other country to assume the worst motives behind any failure in performance or any decision they disagree with,” the authors write adding that “…Cricket does not unite Pakistan but it gives millions of Pakistanis something which they all care about and, so it follows, a common repository for their emotions.” 

The book overflows with enlightening anecdotes from and stories about cricketing icons like Prince Aslam, Intekhab Alam, Zaheer Abbas, the famous five Mohammad brothers, Master Aziz Durani, Waqar Younis and contemporaries like, Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Younus and even a list of insults lavished on fellow opponents and contemporaries by the stingingly fast Shoaib Akhtar. The impact of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime on Pakistani cricket is also dealt with in the book. The authors reveal the cricketing genius of these heroes beyond the statistics that remain in front of public eyes.

The book also showcases several greats as master artists, musicians, piano players, singers etc. Cricket is an experience that is best felt when shared and that is the essence of the sport in Pakistan. It is a fine way to measure up and analyse the collective sub-conscious of a nation. “The drama and turbulence of Pakistan cricket are echoes of the drama and turbulence of the nation’s history.”

Some of the oldest surviving cricketers of Pakistan’s early crop of players narrate vivid stories of matches described drably in history books which tell a tale of temperament, emotion and an ethos that the players followed and that was central to their identity. White on Green presents to us the life of Intikhab Alam who began his service to Pakistan cricket as a player in 1959 and has continued till recently as coach, manager and now as administrator. Maser Aziz, who coached the inspiring Hanif Mohammad and “who died in obscurity”. Billy Ibadulla, who was involved in coaching at junior level. Israr Ali, the man who played in Pakistan’s first-ever Test match in 1952 who was also one of the pioneers of the reverse swing. Raees Mohammad, one of the five Mohammad brothers who failed to get a Test cap. Malik Miran Bux, who played against India in 1955, aged 47 years and 284 days. S.F. Rahman, former leg-spinner and expert ballroom dancer, who has now become an influential religious preacher. Duncan Sharpe, the only Anglo-Indian to play for Pakistan. Dera Ismail Khan, Wasim Bari, Hawed Iqbal and countless others.

Master Aziz once wrote with the help of the great Qamar Ahmed: “Cricket teaches cheerfulness in defeat, and modesty in victory. It checks the growth of selfishness and creates a spirit of comradeship. It is perhaps the only game that builds up a sound character and adaptable temperament, not only on the cricket field but also in the wider field where the struggle for existence goes on.” That is rightfully what forms the cricketing identity of a nation and indeed also of Pakistan.

One of the most powerful tales recounted in the book is that of Prince Mohammad Aslam Khan, the actual inventor of the “doosra” and heir to two princely states in what was pre-Partition Gujarat. Prince Aslam Khan is still remembered fondly over 35 years after his passing and his was one of the most inspiring riches-to-rags story of a cricketer who led by example with a magnanimous character,  generous and giving attitude and a helping soul who didn’t mind giving away all he had for someone who needed it.

Prince Mohammad Aslam Khan “loved to make a cricket ball hum in the air, and as a party piece he liked to bowl a ball close to the garden wall and make it stop dead with backspin. He played countless improvised games with his younger brothers and local children; he enjoyed announcing his deliveries to them and predicting their means of dismissal.” He was one of the most well regarded players of his generation and in the end, according to the Australian cricketing great Keith Miller, “would’ve been treated better in Australia” due to his “non-conformist attitude”. He took strictures calmly and was well behaved on the field — with one spectacular exception. “At a club match in Nazimabad, he was incensed when the umpire gave him lbw.

“After arguing for some time, he marched off the pitch and headed for his parked convertible. He extracted two revolvers he kept in the glove box, marched back on the field and fired them in the air. The fielders and the umpires fled from the ground and the match was abandoned.” In his final match at Faislabad, he was invited for drinks by a gentleman named Joseph from the Australian opposition team.

“Prince Aslam accepted gratefully: alcohol had become harder to obtain for Muslims as both Bhutto and his military successor, General Zia-Ul-Haq courted clerical support.”

The partition of India and Pakistan left a huge scar on both the nations and similarly on its people, including, that is, the cricketers. “More than 15 million people were uprooted amid savage inter-communal violence, particularly in Punjab, which was divided hastily and artificially between the two nations by the Radcliffe Commission in the final weeks before independence on 14 August 1947.”

The book is a fine read for a cricket enthusiast but even a more insightful one for one willing to delve deep into the lifeblood of a country that claims the affection of the authors.

White on Green: Celebrating the Drama of Pakistan Cricket By Richard Heller & Peter Oborne ,Simon & Schuster , Price: Rs 699 , Pages: 320 


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