Whenever Wasim Akram was in action on the cricket field, it was a thrilling sight for the spectators. Whether it was his power packed hits with the bat or his superbly controlled swing bowling at high speed, he was a dangerous opponent for all rivals. His tall and sturdy frame and his long flowing hair made him a sight to behold. But he also played during a time of great crisis in Pakistan cricket when match fixing was rife. He had not disclosed his opinion then, but now he has come out with his own version of the incidents in his autobiography titled Sultan. Wasim used to be called the Sultan of Swing.
The book starts by describing Wasim’s boyhood in the locality of Mozang in Lahore. It was there that Wasim grew up along with his elder brothers Naeem and Nadeem. He also had a younger sister named Sofia. Hilariously, one of the first cricket teams that he represented was named The British Government. The boys who founded the team felt that the name British Government would be an impressive name for a cricket club!!
His first cricketing hero was Imran Khan who helped his career to flourish. But despite having talented players, the Pakistan team always performed below expectations.
Wasim writes candidly: “People complain that the Pakistan team is not consistent. But the country itself is not consistent. Nothing happens in the same way twice. There is no institution that you can rely on. I played under 13 different captains, ten different coaches and nine cricket board Chairmen.” He attributes the team’s inconsistency to the rapid changes that are always happening in Pakistan’s cricket system.
Later in the book he also takes up the question of match fixing that erupted during the peak of his own career. In a chapter titled “Dirty Money”, he writes: “The first hint I had of corrupt undercurrents was before the final of the Austral-Asia Cup in 1990. Rumours began circulating that some Pakistan players had been paid to make their team lose.” When word reached Imran Khan, he called his team together and flatly told them that the 14,000 pounds that the team had already won would come to the players only if they continued to win. If they lost, not a single penny would come into their hands. The ploy worked and Pakistan won the trophy.
Wasim writes that although Imran Khan and Javed Miandad had different ways of looking at issues, they were both uncompromising when it came to honesty. This steadied the players. Had it not been for their strong leadership, things could have become much worse. Even then, there was often an air of suspicion with the team. Players were suspicious of each other and therefore could not be genuinely friendly with each other. It affected the morale and fighting spirit of the team.
Later, when Saleem Malik was the captain, his questionable decisions and Pakistan’s astonishing defeats added fuel to the fire. Malik was eventually banned but by then a lot of harm had been done to Pakistan cricket. Under intense spotlight and media glare, there came a situation where every player thought only about his own safety and pointed a finger at others including Wasim. It destroyed team spirit completely. The haphazard decision making of the Pakistan Cricket Board and its selectors added to the chaos and confusion. It took many years before some semblance of order and confidence was restored.
After he had quit playing, Wasim found satisfaction as a commentator along with his old friends Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Harsha Bhogle. He also served as bowling coach of Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. But in 2009 he lost his wife Huma. The posthumous diagnosis was that she had suffered from an affliction called mucormycosis which the doctors in Pakistan had not diagnosed correctly.
Her rapid decline had made Wasim decide to shift her to a hospital in Singapore. But when she had a cardiac arrest on the flight, the aircraft was diverted to Chennai. They arrived without the required visas and permits. But the Indian authorities waived all requirements and Apollo hospital waived the fees. “I will never forget their kindness,” writes Wasim. But despite everyone’s efforts, Huma passed away due to multiple organ failure. She was only 42 years old then.
Later Wasim married Shaniera Thompson, an Australian woman who steadied his family life in the same way as Huma had done earlier. Now his two sons Tahmoor and Akbar are doing well at college in the USA and his seven year old daughter Aiyla is a precocious learner too. It was his wife who urged him to pen down his memoirs so that his fans across the world would come to know the facts of his life and career. The result of his efforts can be read about in this absorbing tale of the ups and downs of one of cricket’s legendary all time greats.