Book: Controversially Yours
Author : Shoaib Akhtar (Autobiography)
Harper Sport /HarperCollins Publishers.
The title is about what the world gave him, the picture on the front cover is his reaction, and the one on the back cover is a depiction of what he achieved.
The just retired Pakistani paceman, Shoaib Akhtar, brings out all his feelings, opinions and experiences in one book. He expands his chest, finally gets a chance to expel the residential dust, and he takes the opportunity to let the world read it for themselves.
Akhtar starts from his birth, maybe even before, as he tells us he is born to a poor family, and he carries the name of his elder brother, whom his family had lost before his birth. The family strives hard to make ends meet, but makes sure their kids get education of the best possible class.
Akhtar the kid, spent his day running, running, and running. If not, playing pranks. The one thing that put him to a halt, was asthma. Getting past severe stages of the trouble, he continues to run like it never hurts. It’s tough, I know personally. Asthma from a decade ago still handicaps me. Anyway, now, Akhtar is put under English medium school, where he loves his classes, starts playing sports, and makes new friends. Pranks tried to keep him at bay, while his academics and sports gave him wings.
Due to monetary constraints, Akhtar shifts to Urdu medium school, where his courses are too easy, and already dealt with in his previous school. Protests happen, reports happen. His father is a disciplinarian, and young Akhtar always got his treatment for every single prank he played, or household curfew he broke. He wasn’t afraid to run away from home, and needed some convincing from his brothers to return home. Nevertheless, he understands why the parents did so, and the parents understood their son better. But, when there is so much to do with so little money, temper isn’t easy to manage.
Akhtar develops passion for football and cricket during his school days. After TV came into his life, cricket took a big step ahead. He worshiped Imran Khan. The 1992 World Cup helped that more. He copies Imran’s action, run up, bowling… Then develops his own. College life grants him freedom, and place in the team.
Akhtar has always dreamt to be a star, an attention seeker. He loved to be famous. He loved the people who encouraged him on the way. He hated doubters. College life meant freedom, a place in the cricket team meant another door’s opening, in the maze to stardom. He still keeps his fearless attitude intact, ready to play pranks, and also ready to admit to them. All meant in a sense of humour. One prank nearly killed his professor. They patched things up later. Story of his life.
He then takes us through his first sighting of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis – Great, Great, Idol, in that order. His talents are spotted, and is selected for u-19 games. He then travels to Karachi, with his friend, almost penniless, to break into Pakistan International Airways’ Karachi team. Going through difficulties, Akhtar reaches the ground, and performs well. Zaheer Abbas picks Akhtar into the star studded PIA squad. Akhtar’s dream is nearly there. He’s standing with the best in the business, he can see his stardom.
Pain before the debut…
What follows is the beginning of the spiralling maze that his career has been. A mix of talent, performance, ignorance, injuries, temper and needless controversies strung together by teammates, staffs and media.
His stint with PIA was a black mark in his career, before it even started – he was underpaid, put into a situation where he had to almost choose between food and shelter, and was a perennial water-boy. He never got to play. He would walk 4 hours a day to the ground, practice and return, traversing the same path and duration. Death becomes his neighbour during the Karachi riots, as he puts his life on the line to attend cricket duties each day, evading bullets and crossing corpses lying on the floor, bathing in blood. Having seen enough, and not wishing to put any other dependents on risk (he had also invited Saqlain Mushtaq to Karachi), he lashes out at PIA for their atrocity and ignorance and returns home. And all he did at home, was run, run, run and practice. A year later, he plays for a domestic team, and gets his revenge against PIA, cricket-wise. After having blown them away with his bowling, he also gave them a mouthful. Again.
He loved to fight, fight for genuine reasons. He feared none, he stood up for what he thought was right, and didn’t back off. He had seen difficulties, from poverty to death. He let nothing deter him on his way to glory. His belief in God, whom he affectionately addresses ‘Boss’, keeps him going.
Career Takes Flight, jolts, spirals
A faulty report puts off his debut by an year. His debut later becomes a battleground for tension, as he enters into a team that scorned him. Captain detested his presence, and the man he replaced, his idol, was obviously unhappy. His outburst against the PIA players fresh in their mind, Akhtar’s test debut was forgettable. He is dropped, pretty much isolated by the team, like an outcast.
There were only 3 things Akhtar cared about when on the field – the Star on his heart (see pic), the hunger for victory, and the passion to take wickets in howsoever manner.
And the things that always pulled him back – politics, coincidental infamy and injuries. All his seniors had an opinion about him, rarely good. The board was almost always discriminating him. The injuries kept coming in. His joints had a disorder, and would develop fluids if put to work. Asthma kept his energy levels down. These factors would pepper his career with unfortunate controversies.
He takes us through various editions of county and club cricket in England, where the workload was lesser, and always wanted a mentor for Pakistani national team, a physician if I could point at a dot, who could take care of pacemen, and all cricketers as a whole. He tells us coaches and mentors in Pakistan believe work load = strength, a thought he believed/s should be changed.
He takes us through the epic test series in India, which he saw from the sidelines, not allowed inside the dressing room. When he got a chance to play against India at Kolkata, he was up for it. He sets Sachin as his prize, and gets him first up. He is overjoyed with the scalps of Dravid & Sachin. A needless controversy in the game puts an early end to his celebrations. He then takes us through to the 1999 world cup, and the result meant that he was again pin-pointed for defeat, and false allegations.
Then comes another scar – chucking allegations. In spite of him repeatedly being cleared for the bowling action by various medical and human-movement science institutes, he is still being called for chucking. Reports have proved that his arm has the unnatural flex, which makes his natural action look bent, and this cannot be cured. Even after the clearance under the examination of Dennis Lillee, the world continued to not believe in it. Mind you, Shoaib Akhtar now reserves the right to sue you in millions if you try to charge him for offence. Quite a few times, he had to be asked to pull out of such intentions by his near and dear ones.
Akhtar loved being fast. It was something he possessed, and rarely anyone else did. He met Thompson, and it only made him want the record of being the fastest bowler even more. The first time he broke the 100 mile barricade, it was shushed by ICC. The next time, he did it in ICC’s garden, the World Cup. He is proud of the record. It is a world record, intact till date. But, then goes on to admit the World Cup ended poor, as Sachin and Sehwag came on to destroy their dreams of winning back the cup.
He is then dropped, as usual, later picked. The ball tampering row starts, where he admits immediately to guilt. Also, tries to explain that it should be introduced into the game, with necessary curtains.
Indifferent continuation… Retirement…
From here to the end of his career after 2 more world cups, he had more conflicts with the board, which was governed by the government, and had their hand-picked captain. Hence, he had conflicts with captain. He had problems with pitches that rarely helped bowlers. He was used when he was not fit, and kept out when fit and performing. He was falsely accused of whining at a kid, raping, chucking, curfew-breaking and many other allegations. Wrong place at the wrong time. He explains and admits to doping charges and the Asif bat-tle. He admits to charges, but is meted out crucifying bans. Contacts and friends help him out. Haters and poachers try pushing him out. He has tidbits from IPL, mentions that he found love in India in the fans and enjoyed the experience, but expected a better price tag for his skill-set, he was promised compensation but not given.
He hangs his boots along with the end of the world cup, and says he has no regrets. He played for his country, and led them to victory, bringing him joy. Throughout the book, he gives his views about cricketers across the globe and across all ages. He idolizes Waqar, though they had trouble making up, he calls Wasim great, though conditions applied. The only surprise to me was that I couldn’t find any mention of Mohammed Yousuf.
Bereft of wings of luck, managed to fly high…
His childhood dream of “being a star” became a reality. He revelled in the stardom, attracted fame, blame and controversies alike. He loved the affection he received. He danced, he partied. He got injured, he was ousted. Controversy after controversy pulled him down, truth was always curtailed. He never got his say out in the open. Seniors and coaches disliked his presence, juniors paid little heed to his advice (asks them to not become like him). He enjoyed both the glamour and the darkness given to him by the media.
In the end, he is happy to be back to take care of his parents and save his knees for his future, to play around with a family of his own.
A book with neat insights into his personal life, a life of a man who loved playing pranks, set high dreams, wanted and became a star, and was too frank for his own good. His temper and no-fear attitude put him in trouble. His kind heart and talent won him fans. May not have had all that was expected, but it is the best you can remember Shoaib Akhtar by, for now…
Good bye, Rawalpindi Express. Let the eagle in you always fly high.
(photos credit: livemint, insidesportsmania.blogspot.com)