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Still bowling bouncers
The best part about holding a Shoaib Akhtar book in your hands is that you know he wasn't injured in the attempt. In parts true to character, Akhtar's post-retirement 'autobiography' Controversially Yours is a sprightly attempt at decoding the turbulent career of Pakistan cricket's last great fast bowler.
Only Shoaib could put itching powder in massage oil, watch his teammates go berserk, and gloat about it years later. Only he could term former captain Inzamam-ul Haq's fervent exhortations of mass namaaz in the dressing room "a mockery of prayer" and live to tell the tale. Only he could call the contentious new umpire referral system "too prim and proper, like a well-covered lady". Or term net practice, that hallowed ground of champion cricketers, pure "bullshit".
Bowling fast, then, wasn't the only thing that made Shoaib unique, though it did make him, for a while, the flag-bearer of a dying art. With that rare ability came awkward coping mechanisms - a put-on aggression and a disarming candour - which alternately terrified and thrilled those precious few who can claim to have been close to him. More than any real attempt to rake up controversy, Anshu Dogra's supple prose paints the picture of a talented loner, a frustrated misfit whose fierce selfbelief sees him rise above the squalor and poverty around him until all illusions are shattered by the backstabbing atmosphere of the dressing room.
The book sees Shoaib playing both wily prosecutor and bitter victim. Let down by his cricketing heroes, he is unable to cope with Pakistan cricket's political shenanigans and pervasive infighting right until the whimpering end. As usual, Shoaib's ego gets in the way of the narrative once too often. The book refrains from shedding any real cricketing light on the methodologies behind his art. He casually mentions that he "learnt the art of reverse swing bowling by closely following Wasim and Waqar on TV". These missing gaps are perplexing and the early chapters have a mock 'I-told-you-so ' tone which grates.
The high points, though, make for entertaining - and surprisingly, coming from Shoaib - often insightful reading. The chapters in which he dwells on seeking political help to evade the wily machinations of Board chief Nassem Ashraf (" I'll screw you and finish you, " Ashraf apparently told him), or of making his way through riot-torn Karachi after a failed stint with the PIA team, make for fascinating reading. Along the way, myths are shattered with insouciant ease and judgments passed with fierce finality. Javed Mianded "never guided us, never took care of anyone";Rahul Dravid "has never been a match-winner";Intikhab Alam is "the most illiterate man you could meet";and Pakistan "has everything but qadar, the ability to value what we have".
The bits on Sachin Tendulkar may have helped garner the spotlight but these pithy, often humorous observations help shed light on Shoaib's keen philosophy of fast bowling: "I am not fighting the opposition, I'm fighting against all that has built up inside me, all that frustration. "
In a world where cricketers are mostly monosyllabic wonders, Shoaib's breezy attempt, though well within his limitations, is welcome.
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