Why Demand Apology From Shoaib?
Cricket may be a religion in India, but it has very limited readership. The millions, who follow the game passionately in the subcontinent and are prepared to shell out huge money for tickets to watch the match, are very miser when it comes to buying a cricket book. Given the reading habits in the subcontinent, to sell a book especially an autobiography is really a tough job unless it has something controversial to say. Knowing fully well that controversy pays or helps in increase the sale of the book the publishers or their agents purposely release those excerpts which they think will interest the public, create a sensation and provide them free publicity prior to the official launch. The same happened in the case of Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar’s book Controversial Yours which interestingly is written by an Indian Anshu Dogra. It is a no-hold-barred book and perhaps the most unorthodox and explosive autobiography written by any sportsperson or the political leader of the region in the recent times.
Shoaib is simply very brutal in his views and he has ripped apart Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and film star Shah Rukh Khan whom he called a cheat for not honouring the commitment he made to him while he played for KKR in the IPL. In a furious spell, he had made mincemeat of Pakistan cricket establishment and demolished Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, former Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Naseem Ashraf and former IPL boss Lalit Modi. Cricket establishment in Pakistan, which once hailed him as “Rawalpindi Express” now has gone out of the way to paint him as a fall guy who should be ignored while the few officials in the Indian Board dubbed him a loose canon and sought an apology from him for what they called “belittling” the greats like Sachin and Dravid. If he deserved to be ignored or he is a loose canon then why this hue and cry, why was he not allowed to launch his book in Mumbai and Bengaluru and why are a stage-managed small demonstrations being organised against him?
It is not that this is the first book written by a cricketer. In India Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Ajit Wadekar, Sunil Gavaskar, Sandeep Patil and Kapil Dev have written and released books in their Test-playing days. But they never dared to raise any controversy and refrained from being critical of the establishment, colleagues or even opponents, and critics say that they did it deliberately to keep their post-retirement options open and viable. That is perhaps one reason that nobody took their books seriously. The former Indian coach John Wright’s Indian Summer was a sort of breakthrough as for the first time he gave the cricket buffs an inside view of how selection was being done and that created chaos in the well-guarded BCCI. The coach, who had a four-year stint with the national team (2001-2005), disclosed some very intriguing stories about the functioning of the world’s most cash-rich board. The issue raised by him surprisingly went off the radar and nobody heard about them afterwards.
However, Shoaib Akhtar’s Controversially Yours is far more inflammatory and hits where it hurts most. The Pathan, in his autobiography, has punctured many echoes, exposed the petty-minded approach of the “super stars” and has lampooned the administrators who run the game without knowing the essence of it. He says what he has written are his views and those who do not agree to it need not buy the book. This may be another tactical ploy to boost the sale but behind this egoistic boost, he has made some statements which are very correct though may be hurtful. Akhtar asserts in his book that Sachin and Dravid, two of the world’s top Test batsmen, played for their own records and rarely won matches for India. For him, Tendulkar and Dravid, who together have totalled over 56,000 international runs (over 33,000 by Tendulkar and over 23,000 by Dravid), are not “match winners”. “I think players like them weren’t exactly match winners to start with, nor did they know the art of finishing the game,” he writes.
The 36-year-old Pakistani speedster claimed that on India’s tour of Pakistan in 2006 Tendulkar was “distinctly uncomfortable” facing him. He cited an example where he felt that Indian master blaster was scared to face him. He writes: “We would have faced a humbling defeat in the series but for the fact that we reined in Sachin. What went in our favour was that he was suffering from tennis elbow! This severely handicapped the great batsman. We managed to psychologically browbeat him. We bounced the ball at him and were able to unnerve him. I returned to the dressing room that first day with the knowledge that he was not comfortable facing fast and rising ball. He was distinctly uncomfortable against me.” He, however, claims that his views have been taken out of context and distorted. Interestingly, while Sachin refuses to comment on Shoaib’s coments calling it beneath his dignity. Out of blue, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla and Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) president Vilas Rao Deshmukh jumped into the fray demanding apology from the Pakistani for making what they called disparaging remarks against Sachin and Rahul. Shukla went on to say that Tendulkar did not need any certificate from Akhtar as his class was acknowledged by none other than Sir Don Bradman himself.
Apart from these two batting legends, Akhtar also took on another great all-rounder Kapil Dev. According to him, Kapil lacked the pace and charisma. Shoaib was effusive in his praise of former captain Sourav Ganguly and the current skipper MS Dhoni. “Before he stepped in, in Sharjah and other places we constantly beat India. After he took over, he rebuilt the team and inculcated in them the winning habit.” He mocked BCCI’s demand for an apology: “I have expressed what I felt and I need not apologise. I have done no wrong, why should I apologise?”
One has to give credit to Shoaib because he has been more ruthless about his teammates and PCB, a rare courageous act given the volatile situation in Pakistan. He has nothing good to say about politics in PCB. His dislike for two former captains Wasim Akram and Shoaib Malik, is very apparent from the way he talks about them. Malik, according to him, was made captain because he was a stooge of PCB chairman Naseem Ashraf, the man responsible for the decline of cricket in Pakistan.
As it was not enough, the maverick fast bowler admits that Pakistanis started ball tempering. He says: “Almost all fast bowlers have tampered with the ball. I may be the first one to openly admit to it but everybody is doing it. To be honest, every team in the world tampers with the ball. We probably might have started it but today no team is innocent and virtually every fast bowler does it. That is the only way to survive because the wickets are so slow.”
Most people have dubbed his statements a gimmick to boost the sale of the book. Shah Rukh Khan reacted that calling him a ‘cheater’ was just a ploy by Shoaib to sell his autobiography. However, the stinging rebuttal to this book came from a Pakistani writer Vaqas Asghar who writing in Express Tribune called Shoaib an embarrassment par excellence. He said: “After 12-odd years in which he missed more than half of Pakistan’s games due to injuries, and a number of others due to various disciplinary actions, including the steroid violation where he and Mohammad Asif were inexplicably forgiven (message to children: lie cheat and steal, Pakistan cricket’s butchers will approve of it all), Akhtar leaves a legacy of…nothing really. He will at best be remembered as an overgrown child who didn’t play well with others and enjoyed cheating rather than hard work.” That is the way to reply to Shoaib. Not just demand an apology from a man who has every right to give his views. He did the right thing by rubbishing the demand.
By Harpal Singh Bedi