I had been looking for a new book for a while before I came across Wounded Tiger. My usual go-to reads are Dan Browns and Phillip Pullman novels. I love delving into an adventure with Robert Langdon and being absorbed by tales of mystery and secrets. For some reason however this time I felt the need for a change and followed my vacant clicks through Amazon in search for my next read.
Somehow I stumbled upon this book without realising it had been selected as Wisden’s Book of the Year 2015. The history of Pakistani cricket had always been of interest to me and somewhere along the way through these endless India v Sri Lanka matches I had dozed off. I had stopped watching games or following scores and it seemed like fate that I should come across this extraordinary tale to reignite my fire.
I was born to bleed blue. There was no question about it and regardless of ones knowledge of partition or history, being Indian instantly means that you firstly love cricket and secondly support anyone BUT Pakistan. It had been drilled into me until that fabled (because I’m sure I’ve referred to it in over 5 of my previous blog posts) 2015 World Cup quarter-final between Australia and Pakistan where I somehow found myself unwittingly supporting Wahab Riaz and the men in green. I had gotten so emotionally invested that when Rahat Ali dropped Shane Watson on 6, I felt my heart sink. Apart from India, no other sports team had ever made me feel like their loss was my loss and this stuck with me for a while. It stayed with me and on July 17th 2016 I found myself once again in unwavering support of Pakistan on day 4 at Lords at the re-birth of Mohammed Amir. As Pakistan did their push-ups and salutes I once again found myself in awe of this incredibly dogged team.
It seems to me that somehow Pakistani cricket is destined to continue even if the world were to end. From a country younger than my parents, the team have survived a journey through terrorist attacks, match-fixing scandals, the mysterious death of coach Bob Woolmer, becoming nomads and countless accusations of ball-tampering and yet somehow have also produced some of the greatest players to grace the game. I needed to know how and why.
I have managed to ramble on for 400 words without once discussing the mastery of Peter Oborne’s book. I won’t give away the story, in fact this post can hardly be called a book report. My sole purpose for writing this is to try and make you read it. (You’re more than welcome to borrow my copy, but i’ll definitely be wanting it back).
I admit it was a challenging read for me. To digest the horrors of partition, it’s impact on both countries and the game and to try and comprehend the complexities of Pakistani cricket in it’s cultural and political context. I found it difficult to try and wrap my head around the extent to which external factors and deep-rooted prejudice and condescension has continually tried to keep cricket in Pakistan down, from the Rana-Gatting incident to the kidnapping of umpire Idris Baig by the touring MCC team.
However, Peter Oborne allowed me to travel with him on a journey not just through the history of cricket but a history of Pakistan through the lens of cricket. He narrated the stories of AH Kardar and Fazal Mahmood who helped shape not only the cricket team but the nation. He charted Pakistan’s first win in England and how it was orchestrated by a man who refused to let the political and social chaos of partition stop him from playing cricket. A man who could have been killed on a train were it not for the legendary Indian CK Nayudu who protected Fazal Mahmood from Hindu fanatics with his cricket bat.
AH Kardar and Fazal Mahmood
It tells the story of how young boys were picked out of street games and thrown into an international team, of how Wasim Akram asked his captain how much money he would need to bring on tour not realising international cricketers were paid. It helps us comprehend an almost magical realism where a 12 year old plays first class cricket and a ball can be released at 100+ mph. The book wanders a bit in the middle but Wounded Tiger takes the story far beyond Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’ and the heroics of the 1992 World Cup. It doesn’t just paint over the cracks or chisel out new ones, Wounded Tiger gives a full account of both glory and grievance of the team from their astounding victories to their bewildering defeats.
Wounded Tiger feels very unburdened given the extent to which Oborne covers an entire country’s past in under 600 pages. It intertwines fact with anecdotes to create a dynamic picture and continues to surprise and entice you to read just one more page. Oborne states that writing on Pakistan cricket “has sometimes fallen into the wrong hands . . . carried out by people who do not like Pakistan” and this book gives us a chance to revise how we see Pakistan through stories including that of the legendary Lala Amarnath who was born into a poor Hindu family in pre-partition Punjab and adopted by the Rana family who sponsored his cricket education in Lahore.
Unable to (with good reason) continue a straight narrative to cover such a vast history, Oborne adapts to a thematic approach to cover topics such as reverse swing, the emergence of women’s cricket, Shoaib Akhtar (aka the ‘rawalpindi express’), Misbah-ul-Haq and lastly Pakistan’s Age of Isolation. The post 9/11 era that has left Pakistan using homes from home.
This book covers it all, it delves into the introduction of the doosra, it covers the history, politics, war and geography of Pakistan, it exposes the opportunity costs of continued social ostracism from India and the terrorist attacks that have forced Pakistani cricket away from their rich and vibrant history and through a cast of heroes and villains allows us to try and better understand this nation under siege.