As a Pakistani, what are your best chances to have a bestseller in India? Well, blame a few towering Indian personalities and release the book in India. Then when you have created enough controversy, go ahead and retract every statement you made, cover to cover, about those icons and say you are wronged and your comments are being blown out of proportion.
If Shoaib Akhtar thought along these lines before he appeared for the interviews on Indian news channels on Saturday night, he might as well have a winner up his sleeves in Controversially Yours.
But the tone of the victim figure on news channels does not exactly match up to what he “laid bare” in the pages of his memoirs.
For starters, he says Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were not exactly match winners, and they did not know the art of finishing a game.
Is that so? But how does one finish a game, Mr Akhtar? Is it by abusing, sledging, tampering with the ball on the field? And we are not even getting into off-the-field misdemeanors such as professional misconduct, indiscipline and attitudinal problems. If this behavior is what Akhtar thinks a match-winner should possess, then I think it’s more to do with everything other than the game.
If you look at Akhtar’s record (not career record, I don’t doubt his abilities on the field), his career has been plagued with injuries, controversies and problems of bad attitude. His verbal conflict with former Pakistan captain and fast bowler Waqar Younis, hitting Mohammed Asif with a bat, using foul language against Pakistan Cricket Board’s penalty of Rs 300,000 slapped on him for indiscipline during the national camp in Karachi, and being caught for ball tampering haven’t done his image any good.
He was banned for a Test match and two One Day International matches for abusing South African spin bowler Paul Ada, during a match against South Africa. He was sent back from the 2005 Australia tour due to an injury amid rumors of indiscipline and attitudinal problems, and also fined by the Pakistan Cricket Board for avoiding a late-night curfew.
What Akhtar forgets is, we Indians do not appreciate bad behaviour from our icons — be it on the field or off it. So he would not find many swearing, overtly aggressive behaviour from Indian sportsmen — be it the cricketers, the hockey stars, chess wizards like Vishy Anand, billiards aces such as Geet Sethi, Michael Ferreira or Pankaj Advani, or tennis icons like Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi.
Thus even a Sreesanth with his fabulous break dance moves isn’t spared when he behaves badly, neither is Harbhajan Singh despite his spin wizardry.
If Akhtar is talking about staying out there and “keeping your wicket” for long and playing your game, you cannot have better examples than Sachin or Dravid. And if he means “attitude” is the sole sign of a match-winner, he should only recall the 1996 World Cup semifinal in Bangalore. Who can forget Amir Sohail getting a taste of his own attitude from the normally quiet Venkatesh Prasad? And Sohail losing his wicket in the very next ball should be an example of why such “attitude” and behavior doesn’t work on the field.
Sachin and Dravid are master batsmen who keep up to the tag of “gentleman’s game” — you don’t need to abuse, shout, yell or glare on field to be known a match-winner or a game finisher.
A good player needs temperament and to keep his calm under pressure, and that doesn’t come with behaving like a close relative of Tarzan on the field. Aggression, when well-channelised, can get the best results.
I remember reading articles that described the team — then comprising the likes of Sachin, Dravid, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad and so forth — to be akin to corporate executives going about their work in a professional manner. No jingoism, no chest thumping. And come to think of it, they were a pretty successful unit, and match winners each one of them.
It isn’t difficult to understand why Shoaib wants to believe everyone is out to get him — be it Wasim Akram or others in the Pakistan team or cricket set-up. If you read one of the statements he has supposedly made in the book — “mujhe apne aap se milna bahut pasand hai (I love to catch up with myself)” — you would expect every other Johnnie to rile him anyway!
Still more, he says on TV that “every villain was standing there around the corner, waiting for me”. Playing the victim card, again?
You would be left aghast at his next declaration, explaining why he hit Mohd Asif with a bat. According to him, when he finishes bowling his temperature shoots up and he has to be left alone at that point for a few minutes to cool off. But Afridi poked him at that very moment and “choked his mood” — he flared up and hit him and hurt Asif too in the process. Is that match-winning agression?
He also says in one of his TV interviews that there have been many incidents in the Pakistan dressing room in which people have had their noses cut off — forks and knives and bottles have been flung. One wonders whether he was describing a cricketers’ room or a war zone. But either way, he seemed to be hanging dirty linen in public for pre-release publicity.
The only part of the book where he could get sympathy from cricket fans is where he mentions how his knees cut short his career to a large extent and how fluid had to be taken out of his knees after each Test match.
Another controversy in Controversially Yours, which Indians would find interesting, is the bit where Shoaib allegedly blames Shah Rukh Khan and Lalit Modi who, Shoaib says, made him accept lesser money for playing in the IPL.
As for his statement that ball tampering should be legalised, and that he had done a fair bit of tampering himself, I would just want to borrow and paraphrase a friend’s status on a social networking site: “I want to drink what Shoaib was drinking when he was penning this book.”
In his TV interview, Shoaib also says if he had the luxury of using bottle caps to tamper with the ball he would have done it, and then goes on to claim everyone does it and “even Sachin has done it”. Is that cricket-talk or marketing ploy?
Autobiographies, or biographies for that matter, are supposed to be a walk down memory lane, and sportspersons should take a wee more care because their memoirs serve as motivation and inspiration to many a youngster. Such irresponsible statements don’t do any good either to the author or to the reader.
His “observation” that Sachin was scared of him reminds me of a video of Virender Sehwag recounting an incident during the Sahara Sports Awards ceremony. It was an India-Pakistan Test match and Shoaib was close to fatigue after trying all his match-winning tactics but without anything to show in the wicket column. Going short from around the leg he kept chiding and daring Sehwag, who was batting on 200, to hook him for a six. Sehwag told him, “Ask your father standing at the non-striker’s end to hit it. He will.”
Sachin was at the other end.
Shoaib bowled another bouncer in his next over and Sachin hit a six. Sehwag’s repartee: “Beta beta hota hai, baap baap hota hai.”