Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Published in Daily Times / Saturday, October 23, 2010
As this chap sheepishly admitted, “a fighter pilot’s ego will rival that of a highly sought after cricketing legend.”
And so Imran remained seated in the car seemingly oblivious to the trio while they stayed rooted to the spot pretending to gawk at the ducks.
No duck has stolen Khan’s thunder before or since.
Imran Khan’s popularity can be gauged by a passage that claims that dignitaries from other Commonwealth countries reportedly asked to see two things, one of which was our great Khan and the other was the Khyber Pass.
Over time, Imran Khan would go through several transformations, moving effortlessly between international phenomena, ‘dream catcher’, ‘good Samaritan’ and ‘King of hearts’. He would come to be recognised as one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of test cricket, “who led the national team to become the best and most bellicose side in the world notwithstanding its internecine rows.”
The task of finding the real Khan has fallen to Christopher Sandford — biographer to the stars. He brings Pakistan’s chequered cricketing history to life in his ‘book of revelations’ by following a man who commanded the respect and adulation reserved for superstars; a man who has lived under the harsh glare of publicity without getting singed for nearly four decades. And a man accurately defined as the figure head of a sporting renaissance, which had direct and dramatic results on national self-confidence.
Sandford’s previous subjects have ranged from music stars like Sting, Mick Jagger and Kurt Cobain to acclaimed directors like Roman Polanski. His decision to add “the unquestioned tsar of Pakistan cricket” comes at a time when Imran is re-sharpening his tools for political office.
Other self-portraits are available in the market such as The Autobiography and its sequel, All Round View, but biographers are not touch up artists. Although a word in the original title of this book that nicely summed up Khan’s off screen antics as a ‘player’ has been toned down to a more sedate ‘celebrity’, the content has not. Judging by the comments on the internet, the book has already created quite a stir by apparently hinting at a possible (brief) liaison between Pakistan’s — now deceased — female ex-premier and the cricketing giant while both were at Oxford. The writer, however, opines that the two were nothing more than “good friends.”
Imran of yore, seen here, complacently sipping milk in a British pub while getting ready to ascend the rickety ladder to success, cuts a dashing figure. He was not only perceived as the sole architect of wins but also the chief cause of riots as the flamboyant front man of the Pakistani cricket team known for his colourful lifestyle who eclipsed his team-mates.
His friends and foes come forward to pay glowing tribute to “the world’s most creative and hardest working bowler who never stopped thinking about his game.” In Sandford’s words, he provided a firm hand on the tiller along with runs and wickets and put the steel in his team. On duty he is described as a “joyless, single-minded leader who expected one to live up to his own high standards.” Then there is the “benevolent dictator ”who “came to enjoy loyalty if not always the unbridled affection of his men in a way hitherto unknown in his country’s 30 years of test cricket.”
When faced with match fixing charges, he wagered all the money from other conquests to ensure a win and would own up to at least one ball tampering charge, stubbornly arguing that “seam doctoring was an ancient technique” and that all great bowlers were guilty of sharp practices.
Revisiting Imran’s old stomping grounds with Sandford is a rare treat. He has a keen eye and a ready wit jumping in to correct misapprehensions or challenge Khan’s memory. He charts the meteoric career trajectory of the man by referencing all aspects of his life — from the good and the bad to the terribly awkward.
The book spends a fair amount of time on the field, which the cricket enthusiast will find invigorating. The rest will be distracted by the bits exposing the Pakistani domestic cricket scene as a world where cricket was far from being a ‘gentleman’s game’ given the “on field exchange of pleasantries with numerous references to the players parentage and to their female relatives.”
The writer erroneously believes that Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup win might have catapulted Imran straight to the presidential office. Let us just say that the local political scene suffers from an inherent design flaw where the term ‘fair and free’ seldom goes with elections. Imran — the cricketing giant — emerged as a unifying symbol for his country once; his debut as a politician has many categorising him as a polarising figure. A lot has changed since the time he was dubbed a lady-killer to the moment he stood accused of sympathising with lady-killers. This Imran is busy dispelling the impression that he is a Taliban apologist. Neither Imran is controversy-free. Both are featured in the book.
HarperCollins UK; Pp 384; Rs 795