Over 219 pages, the former Pakistan captain talks of talent, trickery, triumph, treason, truce in Pakistan cricket and then plays much across the line in an attempt to analyse Indian politics, only to get beaten — the cricketing term. Yes, after he’s done with the cricket, Afridi, though maintaining that politics is not his cup of tea, sips a fair bit... and sounds bitter.
One feels he loses it as he leaps out of his crease to come up with sentences such as ‘Indian crowds are awesome... too bad they can’t elect a government that is good to them.’ He even crosses the Line of Control and talks of Kashmir. In fact, on the ‘terrible’ day (March 3, 2009) when the Sri Lankan cricket team bus was attacked by ‘armed gunmen’ (not terrorists) in Lahore he ‘was in Muzaffarabad — capital of the Pakistan-administered territory of Kashmir...’
It’s evident the proud Pathan from the Afridi tribe is a hardliner, much like the explosive batsman he was. And it’s the latter part that makes for interesting reading.
Despite being driven by his Dad, Afridi admits he was a dud at school. In fact he got himself admitted into a government school from a private one after bargaining with his father as it had a good cricket team. His family had moved from the mountainous Khyber region to Karachi in search of livelihood and his father drove water tankers to start with.
Afridi credits Karachi for his growth as a player and cricket’s Twenty20 format, tournaments in which used to be organised during Ramadan when boys would fast during day and play at night. His batting skills too were honed in Karachi’s alleys where tennis and tape ball cricket was popular. They were mean too, as he discovered when he was robbed of a borrowed bike at gun-point before he had made his international debut.
The boy himself was getting sucked into bad company though, and got slapped by his elder brother for his not-so-social habits, an insult he is thankful for. Another incident that made him determined is the losses his father suffered after investing in the stock market and consequently the family falling into hard times. Afridi, the fifth of 11 siblings (six boys and five girls) wanted to get his parents out of financial troubles and ‘cricket was the only way for a not well-schooled and too young to work’ Shahid.
The first step was when he was picked in the Pakistan Under-19 side for a tour of the West Indies, where he ‘struggled with halal food and came across big men, big women and big chicken pieces.’ Something bigger was in store. While on tour, he was called up to replace injured leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed (yes, Afridi was a bowler initially) in the senior side that was taking part in the Kenyan Cricket Association’s Centenary tournament in Nairobi — October 1996.
His batting was a revelation at the team’s net practice as he thrashed the famous Pakistani pace pair of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis left, right and centre. Captain Akram, who had to leave the tour midway to attend to a family emergency, had asked stand-in skipper Saeed Anwar to slot the kid up the order.
He did not get to bat in his first ODI though as Pakistan replied to Kenya’s 148 with 149 for 6 in 40.2 overs — Afridi was due at No.9. Earlier, he had gone wicketless in 10 overs. Then, in the next match, batting at No.3 in his debut innings, he created history — a 37-ball century to shatter rival Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya’s fastest three-figure score (48 balls) record. A B de Villiers now holds the record for the fastest ton though — 31 balls. The whirlwind 102 included six fours and 11 sixes that flew about the Nairobi Gymkhana. Afridi writes he had actually dreamt about hitting Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kumar Dharmasena for huge sixes the previous night and had narrated the vision to roommate Shadab Kabir.
Well, he wouldn’t have dreamt he would slam that swift innings with Sachin Tendulkar’s bat surely. Yes. Sachin had given his bat to Waqar with a request to get a replica made in the sports goods manufacturing Pakistani city of Sialkot. The Pakistan pacer had handed it to Afridi, who produced that quickfire knock.
Afridi admits he was 19 then, not 16 as reported.
Just like his batting, Afridi’s relationship with people around him has been stormy. Aamer Sohail (former captain) the first teammate to bond and connect with him, was also the first with whom he had a fall out.
Ditto with Javed Miandad, who as coach conspired to keep him out of the team (so much so that he wasn’t given batting practice at the nets even as he was the opener) and it was only on the insistence of captain Wasim Akram, who threatened to walk out of the side if Afridi was not played that he kept his place, during the 1999 tour of India. However, after Afridi got a century (in his second Test), Miandad pulled him aside before the presentation ceremony and asked him to give him credit for grooming him into a good batsman, during the interview. “That day I lost all my respect for Javed Miandad, supposedly one of the greats of the game but in reality, a small man,” Afridi writes.
However, he speaks high of another Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, who he says had the midas touch and one who encouraged him to play his natural game; Afridi struggled to sleep following his demise on the night Pakistan lost to Ireland to be knocked out of the 2007 World Cup and having to deal with speculation about his death being a murder by some sort of underworld betting mafia.
The narrative on infighting in the Pakistan team is elaborative. ‘The gloomy legacy of the Pakistan team — much like the country it represents — is its inability to fight its inner battles.’
He also touches upon insecurity among seniors in the side. ‘Waqar was a terrible captain. Neither could he control nor inspire the team. In fact he was responsible for much politicking in the side that was full of ill will with the two Ws — Wasim and Waqar — fighting for captaincy in 2003 and players entrenched in two camps.’
Afridi also goes on to say his relationship with Waqar crashed when the latter became the team’s coach while he was captain — they were simply out of sync.
He also picks on Shoaib Malik, who, at 25, was not fit to lead Pakistan according to him. Malik’s captaincy made the fissures within the team even wider as groupism and dressing room politics became rampant, Afridi writes. ‘Malik believes everything he hears and was prone to taking bad advice from bad people.’
Such was the bad blood in the team that during the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup in England, one senior and great batsman attempted a coup in a midnight conference saying he had declared an all-out rebellion against captain Younis Khan. Like in many such instances of ignominy, Afridi chooses not to name the characters.
Grime and crime
Afridi also talks of unbridled bribery in the Pakistani cricket set up, termed ‘parchi,’ which a lot of players take recourse to by getting a powerful political or administrative patron to push for them to be included in the team, sometimes for favours returned, sometimes for endorsements.
Also, there was a group of players that operated politically and even criminally. The chief among them was Salman Butt, convicted as leader of the spot-fixing ring in 2010-11. Sadly, officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board and team manager Yawar Saeed were not too interested in sorting out this rotten lot even after he had brought it to their notice, he writes.
Afridi also expresses regret for biting the ball in Australia in a bid to dent it out of sheer desperation to win the match and apologises for the forbidden act.
It’s a mixed bag when he talks about playing arch rivals India and uses distasteful words such as ‘suicide bomber’ to describe Pakistan’s approach to the grave games with its neighbour.
He also attempts to take the sheen off Anil Kumble’s record 10-wicket haul in a Test against Pakistan in 1999 at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground in Delhi by saying ‘he took advantage of an inconsistent home umpire (A. Jayaprakash) and the pitch paved by Shiv Sena.’
Afridi is not too kind to Gautam Gambhir — who he thinks has an attitude problem — as well and recalls his on-field altercation with the cricketer-turned-politician at the Asia Cup in 2007 during which they had a ‘frank bilateral discussion about each other’s female relatives.’
Yuvraj Singh, Gambhir’s batting partner when that confrontation broke out, finds praise as Afridi applauds Indian batting nevertheless. ‘During the two decades that I played at the highest level, there’s never been a better line-up — Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh.’
On the lighter side, he recollects inviting the Indian team over for dinner during the 2004 tour but committing an oversight by missing out on vegetarian options on the menu, only to sort out the crisis by managing to get some daal and palak ready in quick time.
There’s a dash of Bollywood too with a Mamta Kulkarni number, of which they made a parody in the Pakistan team, getting mentioned. Afridi did not have a celebrity crush nonetheless — he says celebs are lot of make-up, and perhaps far from reality.
Afridi himself has had a huge following though. Among his crazy, scary, fans are some females who travelled from villages outside Peshawar to Karachi searching for him. Some turned up at his residence dressed as brides, insisting he marry them.
For all the flamboyance, Afridi reveals his was an arranged marriage and that his father chose the bride for him — he simply said yes. Now he has four daughters who are welcome to play any indoor sport but not compete in public sporting activities, for social and religious reasons.
Afridi also prods the political pitch. He states the war against terror following 9/11 wasn’t Pakistan’s to begin with. ‘I don’t think any other nation has given up more to fight terror than Pakistan — over 80,000 casualties sustained. Over 130 billion dollars spent.’ Phew!
Afridi says cricket is the best solution for Indo-Pak peace and talks about his fancy of being Foreign Minister of Pakistan for one day to fix sporting ties with India — cricket, hockey, football, kabaddi, chess, men and women. He goes on to say he’s discussed the matter with several top officials, in and out of uniform. Yes, he does speak of his interactions with the Pakistani generals. Ahem...
He has a take on Kashmir too. ‘We have to solve that issue. We have to save the Kashmiri people, and must involve them in the peace process. Kashmir belongs to the Kashmiris. Not to Indians. Not to Pakistanis.’
Afridi reveals he has turned down offers of association from all three major political parties of Pakistan before delivering a googly towards the end. ‘I’m quite a serious fan of politics but at the moment I do not have political ambitions.’
There’s the Game Changer....