Sunday, November 16, 2003

Searing indictment of the mess that is Pak cricket
V. Gangadhar 

Cutting Edge: My Autobiography
by Javed Miandad with Saad Shafqat. Oxford University Press. 
Pages 344. Rs 495. 

To lose a five-match one-day cricket series 2-3, after taking a convincing 2-0 lead is some achievement! Pakistan had this not-so-enviable achievement to its credit in the recently concluded Pepsi Cup home series against South Africa. ‘O, no, not again!’ wailed the Pak cricket fans, and leading the chorus was the team coach, Javed Miandad.

There is a lot of wailing in Cutting Edge: The autobiography of Javed Miandad. And a lot of bitter medicine too, a fact perhaps attributable to the co-author, Saad Shafqat, being a physician. Miandad, the best batsman ever produced by Pakistan, held his team’s fragile batting together for nearly 18 years with an average of 52.57 in the Tests and a highly respectable 41.70 in the One-Dayers.

The book reveals glittering moments of that illustrious career. A century on debut against New Zealand, breathtaking run chase to beat India in the 1978 Karachi Test, captaincy at age 22, the unforgettable last-ball sixer off Chetan Sharma in the final of the Sharjah Australasia Cup in 1986 against India, tons of runs for the English county Glamorgan, big double centuries, series wins over England and India, as well as near misses against the West Indies, and to crown it all, the triumph at the 1992 Melbourne World Cup.

But one does not read Cutting Edge for these well-known details, however absorbing they might be. The book is a searing indictment of the way cricket is run in Pakistan. Those who talk of politics in Indian cricket, will understand how fortunate Indians are, once they read the book. Miandad, along with Pakistan cricket, is a major victim of the poisonous cricket atmosphere across the border.

Very few cricketing nations boast of as much natural talent as Pakistan. Yet, with petty politics, nepotism and an incompetent and biased administration slowly destroying the game, the country has seldom done justice to these talents. Captains have been chosen and disposed of like old clothes. Team selection has been a joke. The intrigues which have plagued Pak cricket belong to a Le Carre thriller. Why was Mushtaq Mohammd dropped as the captain from the Pak tour of India in 1979 after leading his team to victory the previous year? Why was the captaincy tossed to and taken back from Miandad so frequently? Why did the senior players develop such an attitude that they avoided strenuous net practice and physical conditioning and no coach dared to scold them for shoddy performances? Look at what is happening in Pak cricket today. The chairman of the selectors, Aamir Sohail and the CEO of Pak cricket, Rameez Raja, are regular commentators and make observations on the players they themselves choose to represent the country!

For 18 years Mianded watched all this and more, as a player, captain and then coach. In Cutting Edge, Miandad exhibits an element of self-righteousness, as if the entire Pak cricket establishment was out to ‘get’ him. The captaincy game sickened him, yet he accepted captaincy whenever it was offered to him. He was labelled a ‘street fighter’ because he stood up to the crassness and superior attitude of the White players. Miandad acknowledges in the book that the Whites targetted him because he was no Oxbridge degree holder and did not act like a ‘burra sahib’. He never had any problems with Indian players who cheerfully put up with his weird sense of humour which showed in his imitating wicket keeper Kiran More’s constant appealing during a World Cup match. His bat spoke for him and how!

Miandad obviously has an Imran Khan fixation, a fact that comes out loud and clear in the book. One chapter is entirely devoted to Pakistan’s most famous cricket captain who shared many great moments with his deputy. Imran comes in for generous praise for his professional skills and shrewd captaincy. Several sections of the book are devoted to psychoanalysing Imran. Why did Imran join the conspiracy against Miandad’s first tenure as captain? Why did he declare the side’s innings in a Test match against India when Miandad had scored 280 and was well set to reach a triple hundred and more? A delayed declaration would not have jeopardised the team’s chances of victory. Contrast this with the more recent delayed declaration by Aussie captain Steve Waugh against Zimbabwe which enabled opener Mathew Hayden to score 380 runs and beat Brian Lara’s record score of 375. Did Imran prop up his prot`E9g`E9 Wasim Akram for the captaincy of the 1994 West Indies tour when Javed was well established in the job?

Several such passages reveal Miandad’s frustrations. His admiration of and co-operation with Imran were never in doubt but he has doubts if these were reciprocated in full. Yet, Imran and Miandad lent a touch of class to Pak cricket and won the World Cup for Pak. Cutting Edge while revolving around such triumphs also raises agonising questions about the mess that is Pakistan cricket. The solutions are yet to come.