Pundits from Pakistan: One of the best cricket books around
Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour With India, 2003-04
By Rahul Bhattacharya
Pundits from Pakistan by Rahul Bhattacharya is a breath of fresh air. Looking at the title, the book seems to be a compilation of the match reports of the five One Day Internationals and three Test matches played by India in Pakistan in the summer of 2003-04. But Bhattacharya does not present the readers with the technicalities and the factual reportage of the contests. Instead, he tells readers an interesting story and the readers would surely empathize with him. Although many people have not visited Pakistan, Bhattacharya’s writing would give the reader a fair idea of how it is.
The initial part of the book talks about the bureaucratic problems. Before the start of the tour, there were question marks on the security of the players, there were issues related to the telecast rights and not to mention, how some of the political parties created ruckus, demanding the cancellation of the tour with immediate effect. The tour was part of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government to improve the relations with India’s neighbours. Many speculated that this was BJP government’s political gimmick to garner maximum votes. The tour was on amidst a lot of speculations.
The historical Pakistan tour had limited number of visas issued to general public as well as media persons. When Bhattacharya (a media person) visited the Visa office in Delhi to get an approval from the ministry, he saw a huge line. He killed his time playing Snake on his mobile phone.
Bhattacharya’s writing captures the convivial attitude of the Pakistan members- right from the local sim card dealer to Pakistan Cricket Board chief Shahryar Khan’s friendly attitude. He had his shares of problems as well. Bhattacharya went to one shop where a phone connection was advertised as ‘R499 plus tax’ but the author had to spend almost thrice the amount as tax which turned out to be a whopping Rs. 1,999. How Mumbai and Karachi are similar, why Mohammad Sami is enormously famous amongst the Pakistani eunuchs and how the author found the appreciation of Indian music in a cybercafé at Multan – these are some of the delectable portions of the book.
He gives a social commentary of his visit to Pakistan. He was largely helped by writer and friend, Osman Samiuddin.
The series began at Karachi with the first ODI being played there. During the course of the tour, Bhattacharya interviewed many people. Bhattacharya has peppered the book with interesting anecdotes (like why Inzamam turned to batting – because he was called for chucking as a 12-year-old boy). The amount of research that he has done before writing this book is visible in the way he compares some of the instances. Balaji’s spell on the fourth day of the third Test match at Rawalpindi was described as “Barnesque”, comparing it to how legendary Sydney Barnes used to bowl.
The most interesting chapter of the book according to me is “Kaunsa top spinner?” This was a chapter which talked about how India lost the second Test match to Pakistan at Lahore. After the match, Bhattacharya talked to Pakistan’s legendary leg-spinner Abdul Qadir. This chapter stands out because Qadir’s quintessential persona is seen. Qadir’s answers, to Bhattacharya’s questions, were serious, funny at times and were quite educational as well. When Bhattacharya asks him about the top-spinner, Qadir fumes at him and says “Kaunsa top spinner (Which top-spinner)?” and says no such delivery exists. What the commentators speak is nonsense, according to him.
Sehwag’s amazing 309, the controversial declaration when Sachin was batting on 194, Kumble’s 10-wicket haul at Multan, Irfan’s way to dismiss Youhana with his inswinger, Dravid’s epic 270 at Multan- these are a few instances which are well written by Bhattacharya. “Pakistan topped the batting and bowling aggregates in the ODI series and lost; India topped the batting and bowling aggregates in Test matches and won,” writes Bhattacharya. This is one of the many good observations made by the author. The best observation made by him was when Ganguly and Dravid were involved in a mix-up during the third Test match. He describes Ganguly and Dravid’s running between the wickets as “magnets configured to always face each other the wrong way.” This description was the cherry on top of a wonderful cake.
Bhattacharya does not put across his viewpoint in a bland way. He builds a good lead around the otherwise bland “fact”. It is the story-telling of Bhattacharya that is compelling. The use of metaphors, poetic language and allusions grips the reader. This is indeed a unique cricketing book since Bhattacharya’s articulacy is seen.
Hats off to Rahul Bhattacharya for attempting to write a cricket book where the emphasis was not solely on the runs scored and wickets taken.