Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Unquiet Ones - Osman Samiuddin

It is described as "the definitive history of a cricket team the world loves to watch but is at a loss to explain" and as "a comprehensive portrait of a Pakistani sport". "The Unquiet Ones" is ambitious in scale but to me falls short. As he nears the end I felt Osman hurried through, lost interest even perhaps. The detail, care and deep insight of the earlier chapters is sacrificed for some reason. He obviously had the information, the knowledge and certainly the craft so I wonder why.

The books starts with the Oval triumph - carefully put together word by word, researched thoroughly - as Pakistan pulls off an improbable win under Abdul Hafeez Kardar whose presence haunts the book till the end.  Much like he describes the aloofness of Imran and the uneasy equation he shared with Miandad, the Kardar equation with Fazal Mahmood was cold. Both power centres - one the captain and one the match winner. I loved the part where Fazal Mahmood says he bowled twenty seven types of deliveries to Hutton before he got him out. Many bowlers cannot even imagine beyond ten, much less execute them. Fazal Mahmood, handsome, super confident of his abilities and certainly hero material, the Brylcreem man was a character one would like to know more of.

The formation of the BCCP, the school and college league, the camps led by Hafeez, the recognition as a test playing nation, the rivalry with India were all documented. The era of Hanif Mohammed and then inevitably the era of Imran Khan, of Javed Miandad, of Wasim Akram, Inzamam and then the stories of Amir, Butt and Asif. Sarfraz Nawaz comes in with his brand of swing bowling - and his expertise with the ball. An entire chapter is dedicated to fast bowling and fast bowlers in Pakistan and how the taped ball that they use in street cricket helps develop more fast bowlers because of the lesser weight which lends to faster arm rotation. The pace twins Waquar and Akram preferring the old ball to the new was interesting.

There is some focus on the match fixing drama and how Akram was constantly mentioned in the middle of that scandal along with Salim Malik and others. How the team played together with all this strife and conflict within and with the Board is amazing. The development of Imran Khan into a world class player, a fast bowler and his 'work like a dog' comment were interesting to read. There is some mention of the scuffed ball but not enough  - one where Martin Crowe points it out. There was a fleeting mention of the underworld and its connections and again not enough. The scandals associated with the team - from ball tampering to match fixing to connections with the underworld are left in the background. For instance no mention of Miandad's family marrying into Dawood Ibrahim's family is mentioned. Nor of the playboys - Imran at the helm - though Mudassar Nazar's father's incident is mentioned. Overall it plays safe - like most cricket books - though its far better researched and written than many.

However some incidents stand out. Like Imran's reaction when he is told that someone in the team had been bought over. He tells the team clearly that they will win no matter what and tells the manager to bet the entire earnings of the team on a Pakistan win. The World Cup campaign and Inzamam's self doubt that was quelled by Imran - in the match that Inzy did not want to play he scored a match winning 60 in 37 balls and put New Zealand out of the tournament. Or even by telling Akram not to worry about no balls and wides as long as he bowls fast. Or Aaquib Javed's soaring confidence after a pep talk by Imran. Imran Khan stands out clearly at the man who changed the face of the game in the country and abroad and as the one who brought home the World Cup.

That said, the book is like a two paced wicket. Leisurely and slow like a Sunday club game and suddenly going into the frenzy of a T20 game towards the end. Many stalwarts are not mentioned however - I thought some mention of the handicapped Azim Hafeez would be there. Saeed Anwar is almost entirely missing and little is told about Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Quadir (that six he hit off Walsh on the last ball to win the game is as good a story as Miandad's last ball six but no mention). To me it's quite enlightening but not comprehensive. Bit of a fits and starts innings but for sheer doggedness and intent, a worthy effort. I loved the setting of the context, the political interludes (the character of Bhutto stands out), the growth of Pakistan alongside. The mention of Manto and Faiz, both cricket lovers, was interesting. Many such snippets but the cricket and cricketers got drowned a bit.

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