Shoaib, the Rawalpindi express, is one of the best players of cricket in the game. He entertained spectators with an exceptionally high quality pace bowling (on occasions exceeding 100 miles per hour).
Shoaib had the “in your face” and “never say die” attitudes that took him to commanding heights of glory even as the same traits threw several challenges into the journey.
Shoaib had a tough time emerging from his lower middle class youth to pursue a high risk career in cricket; had a tough time in dealing with an unfair employer, a politicized cricket administration, seemingly uninspiring and often hostile coaches, captains and fellow players. Shoaib had a tough time dealing with his own fitness and his penchant for parties/girls. However, Shoaib did not have a tough time at all with just one part of his ecosystem: support and adulation from the countless number of fans not just in Pakistan but also in India and every other country that loves/plays cricket.
Shoaib provides us a lovely glimpse of middle class Pakistan in the chapters dealing with his childhood. Dad worked in a job that does not pay much but takes care of most aspects of life including education and healthcare. Mom managed the household within the limited means with dignity. Education ranked a high priority. The young boys gauged how “rich” the family was on any day by looking at the size of the knot at the end of their mother’s duppatta (she stored the money in her dress!). Shoaib aspires to conform to his family ethos and yet seeks to be "free". Shoaib, by speaking from his heart, enkindles the nostalgia in most of us and inspires renewal of faith in future.
Shoaib attempts to set the record straight but is not entirely successful:
- Yes, he tampered balls. His excuse: everyone did it and winning is important. Not cricket.
- Yes, he partied a lot. Yes, there were girls. No he did not rape.
- No, he did not fake injuries. He genuinely suffered. His commitment to play bearing his pain with fortitude has not been appreciated.
- No, Pakistan cricket administration was not supportive. One was not assured of one’s place in the team unless the non-playing administrators were pampered.
- Yes, the team knitted well during good days. No, the team did not knit well during bad days. On balance, there was more internal strife and hostility than esprit de corps.
- Yes, there was match fixing. He did not indulge in one though he was approached.
Shoaib does not have one unkind word for India; recognizes that several of the Pakistan players (including Shoaib and Afridi) enjoy immense popularity in India and is joyous at the support his Kolkatta fans (he played for KKR in Indian Premier League) gave him.
Shoaib has been candid in commenting about fellow players in Pakistan and elsewhere. His comment about some Indian batsmen playing for their records instead of for winning the game cannot be dismissed as a biased observation. Whether unfair or not, it comes from his heart.
The one thing that I expected but did not find in the book is his state of mind, the tactical options he considered and executed and their success/failure in crucial match winning moments. He probably wanted to save it for a private briefing to aspiring pace bowlers in Pakistan so that some day when his record is broken it is done by a Pakistani for the Pakistan team.