White On Green review in the Cricket Society Journal Autumn 2017
Generous and perceptive analysis by John Symons
One year on from the Book-Of-The-Year shortlisted Wounded Tiger: A History Of Cricket In Pakistan, Richard Heller and Peter Oborne return to the topic with a new opus which aims to “celebrate the drama of Pakistan Cricket.” Now, patently, there is a connexion between the two books but this is no series of offcuts or even a sequel but instead a set of short essays of aspects of cricket in Pakistan that could not reasonably fit into a general history but were far too interesting to leave on the discard file.
For an obvious example, there is the case of the “lost” Mohammad brother. Hanif, Mushtaq, Sadiq and Wazir are well-known as the four who played Test cricket but what of the unlucky one who didn’t – Raees? Still alive and alert and bearing no ill-will (well, maybe a little) towards those who, in the face of what seem pretty overwhelming evidence of his talent, would not select him at Test level. It is here that we find the first of many references to A H Kardar, who ruled Pakistan cricket at various times and treated it as a kind of personal fiefdom. One feels that there must have been a certain kinship between Brian Sellers, Gubby Allen and A H Kardar in the way that they saw cricket and cricketers.
The principles of selection and non-selection are one of the recurring themes throughout the book. “Billy” Ibadulla had to come to England to be recognized as Test class; Miran Bux made his debut at 47; Israr Ali forced his way into the Test team but had the kind of relationship with Kardar reminiscent of Charles Parker and Pelham Warner. Then there is the magnificently eccentric and ultimately tragic Prince Aslam. Talented but wayward, a Prince whose family fortunes suffered under Partition but a Prince who lived as if he were a rich Nawab; skilled on the harmonica [actually the Pakistan harmonium RH] and prone to perform as a one-man band or arrive late for trains with a pick-up band that he fancied playing along with, he is a character whom no author of fiction would have ever dared to invent.
Legends appear as well. Majid Khan declines to live on past glories but is producing a master plan to restore Pakistan’s cricket back to its heights. Zaheer Abbas, ICC President, talks freely and Intikhab Alam is profiled. Then there are the quirky moments as Tauseef Ahmed recalls how he bowled for a day in the nets at the Pakistan Test team, was invited back the following day as a net bowler, and the day after that found himself as a member of that Test team. The father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Deterrent (if that’s the right phrase) recalls his cricketing days in an interview with Najum Latif and the inevitable A H Kardar turns up on US television on Tell The Truth (no irony intended.)
There are more serious essays on the relationship between Islam and cricket; the brave “suffragettes” of Pakistan cricket who, in the face of sometimes violent opposition, were determined to play the game they loved; cricket under the days of military rule; and the attack on the Sri Lankan tour bus which led to Pakistan being unable to play cricket at home and to decamp to the Emirates.
If, however, you want to find something that encapsulates everything about Pakistan cricket – from the foolhardy, an opener batting in tennis shoes against an express bowler; humiliation, a team losing by an innings and 851 runs; fortitude, a team travelling for nearly a whole day and night to play their first first-class game; an appetite for runs, the experienced team batting on and on until declaring at 910 for 6; and pride, two surviving members of the defeated team speaking in later life of how they felt in representing their team and how they continued to play cricket – one merely has to turn to the account of Railways versus Dera Ismail Khan, still sitting proudly (?) in Wisden as the greatest defeat ever suffered in first-class cricket.
A real page-turner of a book, with nuggets everywhere, and a book to be returned to often and not left on the shelf after a single read.