|Cover: Controversially Yours | Picture credit: Amazon|
The book, Controversially Yours, an autobiography of one of Pakistan’s legendary fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, co-written by Anshu Dogra, released in 2011 which instantly created a stir in the media because its controversial contents, is a fascinating read.
And if you have been a fan of the Rawalpindi Express ever since he started playing international cricket, this book will intrigue you even more.
I remember picking up this book one evening from a bookstore in Bangalore, in 2014, when I visited the garden city for work. I was due to travel to Kolkata in the next couple of days. I had booked a train ticket, which meant I had to be on the road for twenty-eight hours at least. So, like I always do, I decided to carry a book along with me. If not anything else, it could at least help kill the boredom of travelling alone in a train.But the experience of reading the book was beyond fighting the dullness of a long train journey. For a kid who grew up watching a lot of cricket from the mid 90s and in the first decade of 2000s, this memoir was all about looking back fondly at the years gone by.
I have always been a fan of Shoaib Akhtar. Ever since I saw him knocking off the stumps of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in two consecutive balls in a Test Match at Eden Gardens, I was sold. Since then, every time I saw him play, I was in awe of the man. Like many others, as a kid, I too, out of sheer admiration for the man, tried to copy his long runup, his incredible follow through, and his intimidating gait, but could never match his charisma.
The memoir, Controversially Yours, successfully manages to match Shoaib Akhtar’s aggressive cricketing personality at many levels. The book starts with stories from his younger days in Morgah in Rawalpindi, which he describes as “a ramshackle place, squalid and lacking any sort of infrastructure”, and his initial years of struggle given he came from a moderate-income-family.
His initial years in Rawalpindi makes for a fascinating reading. Shoaib writes, as a kid, he was good student, and a natural prankster who frequently landed into trouble because of his mischief. This is one characteristic trait he carried well into his adulthood and even when he was representing his nation. He has been controversy’s favorite child.
His passion for the game of cricket began very early, and the decision to become a fast bowler came logically because he was a natural athlete and loved running.
“If I hadn't been born a human being, I would have been an eagle”
His consistent hard work and dedication to achieve excellence earned him a place in the national team. He has had many successful moments in the cricket field over the course of his long career, and there were days when nothing worked for him. But his will power and hunger to succeed got him going.
His on-field contest with Sachin Tendulkar is most talked about affair in the subcontinent. In his book, Shoaib Akhtar makes no bones about taking a dig at either Rahul Dravid or Sachin Tendulkar.
“Vivian Richards, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and the likes of them are great batsmen who dominated with the bat and were truly match-winners. Initially, when I bowled against Sachin, I found these qualities missing.”
He of course goes on to add that neither Sachin Tendulkar nor Rahul Dravid were match winners.
“I think players like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid weren’t exactly match-winners to start with, nor did they know the art of finishing the game.”
It is difficult to say if he is serious about what he wrote in the book, but it does make for interesting reading for sure. His jibes don’t end with Sachin or Rahul though, his former teammates get a taste of his lethal salvos as well. Shoaib takes a dig at Wasim Akram by saying the latter wanted to end his international career and accuses Shoaib Malik of being a PCB ‘stooge’.
“Shoaib Malik doesn’t deserve to be captain and was made captain because he was a stooge of the PCB Chief Naseem Ashraf” and “Wasim Akram threatened to walk out with half the team if I was included in the team.”
In the book, Shoaib Akhtar talks at length at ball tampering scandal and his two sanctions by the ICC for the offence. He admits to tempering with the ball and justifies the act and even cites various instances where he doctored the ball. He goes to the extent of saying that it should be legalized by the ICC as, according to him, most bowlers around the world does it. He says:
“No team is innocent and virtually every fast bowler does it. That is the only way to survive because the wickets are so slow.”
The book has a lot of interesting stories about PCB and overall cricketing culture in Pakistan. Being a part of the system, Shoaib gives us what he faced during his tenure as a player. In the book, he talks about the rot in Pakistani cricket system and even points out the hypocrisy he experienced.
"Our seniors set the example of going out, having a good time - girls were always coming and going out of their rooms ... But when one of the seniors became our coach, he preached what he never practised in his own time."
The book is full of many such stimulating revelations and anecdotes from the cricket during the 90s. I believe this book has a little for everyone, but for fans of Shoaib, this is a must read.