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Book Review: Cricket Cauldron

Sunday, 2 February 2014 - 7:55am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Book: Cricket Cauldron
Author: Shaharyar Khan and Ali Khan
Publisher: Harper Sport
Pages: 330
Price: Rs699

Cauldron presents a comprehensive, accessible analysis of the ills that plague Pakistan cricket to cricket administrators and the serious cricket fan. In particular, a few of the book’s diagnoses, such as nepotism, ad-hocism, and rot at the first-class level in Pakistani cricket, will apply in various degrees to other sub-continental cricket boards. Besides, Cauldron has enough spicy anecdotes about cricketers for a good discussion over tea in the Bombay Gym or Khar Gymkhana.

Cricket in Pakistan is characterised by world-beating but inconsistent talents, that emerge amid institutional chaos. Cauldron extends to Pakistani cricket the well-established idea (previously explored by CLR James and more recently by Ramachandra Guha) that the cricket played on the field and in the cricketing boardroom reflects the characteristics of the society around it. Being a well-researched theme-based book, it largely succeeds in its diagnostic purpose, though one does wish there were a longer, more historical narrative about the growth of cricket in Pakistan.

The book relies deeply on Shaharyar Khan’s unique perspective as the Pakistan Cricket Board’s chairman from 2003 to 2006, and the anthropological analyses of his professor son Ali Khan.

Khan’s compelling argument, firstly, that many grassroots cricketing institutions in Pakistan fail to instill cricketing ethos in young Pakistani cricketers, and secondly, the individual cricketer’s sudden rise to the international level (among other reasons) with a mentality of ‘make hay while the sun shines’, helps illuminate the motivations of such tainted talents as Salman Butt, Mohd. Aamir, and Mohd Asif.

Other ill-effects of having poor grassroots institutions are as forcefully documented. For instance, the moving case of an upcoming, talented junior bowler whom nepotism derailed at the club level.

Such injustice, apparently common around the sub-continent, is explained away by most administrators with the facile explanation that a cricketing team can only have 11 spots. The book raises the question of whether it is acceptable to lose potentially world-beating talent to nepotism.

Shaharyar Khan’s surveys of cricketing infrastructure around Pakistan can be read as a portrait of poor development in the country at present time.

What about the youngsters that grow up in this cricketing setup? Cauldron has concise, accessible and sufficiently controversial profiles of senior players, especially for those readers seeking the gentle pursuit of Inzamam-punching. For one, it amplifies the widespread allegation that Inzamam ul-Haq during his captaincy schemed and plotted to keep Misbah out of his team. This allegation is particularly damaging, given that Khan Sr was PCB head honcho during Inzamam’s captaincy, and secondly, Misbah has since been inducted into the national team and has become its lynchpin and captain.

In this narrative of talent, chaos and intrigue, the book also places emphasis on Khan Sr’s work as a PCB chairman of progressive, moderate tendencies. There are a couple of chapters where Khan Sr details his attempts to establish a uniting backbone of administrators through the faction-ridden first-class cricket level; and to bring sponsorships, player salaries and well-planned scheduling to first-class cricket. These chapters, less plodding than they may sound to a casual reader, may be useful studies of realpolitik and management — as also Khan senior’s attempts to bring stability to the international team by appointing the South African Bob Woolmer as coach and trying to forge Woolmer’s partnership with Inzamam. It is natural that Khan Sr should be proud of having engaged Woolmer in face of protests against the ‘foreign’ coach. Woolmer’s appointment saw the Pakistani team rise to the top three in both Test and One-day rankings.

And then, Pakistan’s worst cricketing disgrace occurred. Shaharyar Khan’s behind-the-scenes eyewitness account of Pakistan’s forfeiture of the 2006 Test against England in Surrey is an engrossing confirmation of the unreasonable harshness on the part of (now-retired) umpire Darrell Hair, and perhaps immaturity on the part of Inzamam. Cauldron weaves together a level-headed, 360-degree-narrative of two headstrong characters, namely Inzamam and umpire Hair, who brought to the table their individual and national neuroses.

If Cauldron sounds like dry fare, it isn’t — it is very readable, given its location in this phase of non-fiction writing where academic subjects are being made accessible to fairly general audiences. This book which is useful for anyone who wishes to understand the astonishing cricketing scene in Pakistan.

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