"It’s really important that international cricket returns to Pakistan": Peter Oborne
by Saj Sadiq

Ground:Gymkhana Ground, Peshawar, Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore, Karachi Gymkhana Ground, Karachi
Player:AH Kardar, Hanif Mohammad, Abdul Qadir, Imran Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq
Event:Australia in United Arab Emirates 2014/15

DateLine: 22nd November 2014


Peter Oborne’s body of work is exceptionally diverse, even for someone of his profession but the truly impressive aspect of it is the sheer depth and incisiveness of his work, covering subjects as far apart as Iran’s nuclear program and Pakistan’s cricket team. His published work includes thirteen books, covering Tony Blair’s political aides, the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, the controversy surrounding Basil D’Oliveira and the history of Pakistan cricket among other things. That he can write a book on Pakistan cricket and Basil D’Oliveira while being well versed enough in the dealings of parliamentary politics to be the Chief Political Commentator for a publication of repute like the ‘The Daily Telegraph’ beggars belief.


It is his work on Pakistan cricket though that has made his name a familiar one in Pakistan. In ‘Wounded Tiger: The History of Cricket in Pakistan’, Oborne takes a team which has an appallingly small body of literary works dedicated to it and turns many years of cricket history from one team and writes a thousand words and paints a thousand pictures while conducting the most melodious of symphonies, to pay tribute to a team that has often been overlooked for one reason or another. A more complete primer of Pakistan cricket will be hard to find.


In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Oborne talks about what inspired him to write about Pakistan cricket, meeting the legendary Imran Khan and other greats whilst researching for his book, what fascinates him about Pakistan, as well as speaking about his recent cricket tour to Pakistan.


PakPassion.net: Why a book about Pakistan cricket?
Peter Oborne: That’s an easy question to answer. It’s an incredibly rich subject which has been scandalously unexplored. There have been some very good books on Pakistan cricket but if you go to the Lord’s library you’ll see shelves and shelves of books on Australian or English cricket but only half a shelf on Pakistan cricket. I think the history of Pakistan cricket is just fabulous and magical in many ways. It’s poorly understood in the rest of the world and one of the key objectives of the book was to make it understood around the world.


PakPassion.net: The level of detail in the book is quite magnificent. How long did it take you to complete the book?
Peter Oborne: From start to finish it took me four years to complete. It took approximately twelve visits to Pakistan, each one for about two weeks. We had to go to many libraries and of course there were hundreds of interviews and then it was a question of structuring the book.


PakPassion.net: You mention that you visited Pakistan on many occasions, what are your opinions of the country?
Peter Oborne: I’d been to Pakistan before I started writing the book and it was after one of the visits that I got the idea to write the book. I find Pakistan a completely exhilarating place to visit. It’s a beautiful country and you are greeted with real warmth everywhere you go and you never cease to meet the most incredible and wonderful people, cricketers and others. I fell in love with Pakistan the moment I went there for the first time which was six years ago and that’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book. I was sent there to do a report on the country for the newspaper that I write for. The moment I arrived there I knew that this country was fascinating and enchanting.


PakPassion.net: Which of the interviews for the book is the most memorable?
Peter Osborne: Almost every interview I did for the book was memorable. For me interviewing the great Abdul Qadir at his academy in Lahore for three or four hours and him telling me how he had been brought up as the son of a poor cleric and how he became a great leg-spinner was very interesting.


Also meeting the great Hanif Mohammad in Karachi was an honour as he is one of the great heroes and founding fathers of Pakistan cricket. Speaking with him about how he played the greatest defensive innings played by any Test cricketer was very very interesting. But also just meeting and speaking with street cricketers in Peshawar or in Swat or in Karachi and seeing the sheer love and enthusiasm they had for cricket was fascinating. It’s very difficult to single out one single interview that was special as there were so many.


PakPassion.net: You met Imran Khan at his house in Islamabad whilst writing the book, what was it like meeting Imran and how did he come across?
Peter Oborne: Imran is a hugely impressive man. I met him at his wonderful hilltop house and he’s got a very serious intellect. His cricketing achievements are extraordinary and he’s one of the greatest cricketers who has walked this earth. He’s played a very important role in the creation of that great Pakistan team. He was fascinating to talk to.


PakPassion.net: The world of Pakistan cricket can at times be rather chaotic. After the in depth research you did for your book what are your impressions of Pakistan cricket?
Peter Oborne: There is the problem which is a tragedy that Pakistan cannot play international cricket at home because of the security issues. I think it’s completely remarkable that the team has overcome the problem of playing and living in exile. I think the sheer vitality of the general cricket scene in Pakistan despite the fact that the national team never plays at home is incredible.


We’ve just seen the great performances against Australia in the UAE where you have so many players missing yet they completely destroyed arguably the best team in the world. Saeed Ajmal is not there but Pakistan immediately find another pair of great spinners, it’s quite incredible.


PakPassion.net: When you visited the towns, villages and cities in Pakistan, were you surprised at the amount of passion for cricket despite international cricket not being played there?
Peter Oborne: I don’t know about surprised but I was heartened by it and for somebody who loves cricket I just find it utterly wonderful, exciting and so incredible. I remember going to the Peshawar Gymkhana and around the Gymkhana ground there are about twenty nets and each with twenty or thirty young men practising. It was phenomenal and beautiful to see such enthusiasm.


PakPassion.net: Third in the ICC Test rankings and competing with the best teams despite no international cricket in Pakistan. It’s quite a unique situation in the world of sport isn’t it?
Peter Oborne: I don’t think that within Pakistan this has been fully appreciated as to just how momentous this achievement has been and Misbah-ul-Haq leading a team in terribly adverse circumstances is astonishing actually. I don’t think that the word realises just what difficulties the Pakistan team has faced and overcome so brilliantly.


PakPassion.net: You were quoted as saying that Misbah-ul-Haq is a greater captain than Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Imran Khan. On what basis was that judgement made?
Peter Oborne: I was actually slightly misquoted in some articles and what I actually said was that he is as good as Kardar and Imran as captain for Pakistan. The reason for that is the situation he had to confront and the difficulties he had to face were even greater than those encountered by Kardar or Imran. To lead the team through the isolation and in the face of much misrepresentation and the aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal and to lead the team so well to third in the world and possibly first in the world in the future is quite extraordinary.


PakPassion.net: How big a loss is it for the world of cricket that international cricket is not being played in Pakistan?
Peter Oborne: It’s impossible to overstate how bad this has been for world cricket. Pakistan is one of the great, exciting and challenging centres of cricket in the world. It was part of the cricketing education and experience of every great cricketer from Keith Miller onwards and to have that taken away is a tragedy. It’s like having a limb removed. In fact it’s like having the heart of cricket removed. So it’s really important that international cricket returns to Pakistan.


PakPassion.net: You met Mohammad Amir and his family whilst researching for your book. What are your thoughts on what happened to Amir?
Peter Oborne: Cricket is currently missing one of the greatest bowlers ever. The first feeling is real sadness but also a sense of anger. I think it was right to ban Amir but I do also think there are some circumstances which are in his favour and I would suggest that people read Michael Atherton’s superb research into how Amir was led into spot-fixing and how he was betrayed by Salman Butt. I feel furious about what Salman Butt did and Mohammad Asif I guess was just a wrong one. Amir is a great cricketing genius and I look forward to watching him play once he’s served his ban.


PakPassion.net: Given the level of turmoil and adversity Pakistan cricket has faced over the years, it’s almost a miracle that cricket has survived and is still followed with great passion by Pakistanis?
Peter Oborne: The reason cricket survives is because of the passion of the Pakistanis even though it’s been hit by a series of disasters including terrorism and scandals. People love cricket and understand cricket so it survives. You used the word miracle and it is a miracle and also incredible how Pakistan cricket has survived through all the turmoil.


PakPassion.net: How can Pakistan cricket help itself and improve its image around the world?
Peter Oborne: I think there needs to be a high level of integrity in the administration of Pakistan cricket and at times that has not been on display. I think under the current chairman Shahryar Khan that will change and that’s one very important thing. The next important point is that Pakistan must develop the game at grass roots level. One of the things you see in Pakistan is the passion for cricket and people playing tape ball cricket everywhere but don’t get access to red ball cricket and the lovely grounds around Pakistan. I think it’s very important and a matter of urgency that the Pakistan Cricket Board invests in the grass roots level of the game more than it has done.


PakPassion.net: You've recently returned from a cricket tour of Pakistan. How did that come about and did you have an enjoyable time out there?
Peter Oborne: I've always wanted to lead a cricket team to Pakistan because it's the most exciting place in the world where cricket is played. I decided to lead a team of English cricketers to Pakistan and it was a stunning success. We were looked after brilliantly and with great warmth wherever we went. We had matches in Lahore, in Karachi and Renala and we played at the historic Karachi Gymkhana ground where Kardar's Pakistan team beat the MCC in 1951 and also at the Lahore Gymkhana ground which is such a wonderful place. Most of the players that I took from England had never been to Pakistan before and they were just bowled over by the country and the warmth of the Pakistani people.


PakPassion.net: Who did your team comprise of and what was the standard of the opposition that you encountered in Pakistan?
Peter Oborne: My team was made up of friends of mine, two or three journalists, two or three businessmen, a few who are involved in politics and a professor of literature. They were just cricket enthusiasts who had a great time in Pakistan. We aren't first class cricketers, rather club cricketers and we had to get a few ringers in whilst in Pakistan to make up the numbers, but even then we lost all of the six matches that were played and one match was rained off. Abdul Qadir played three matches for us and he was wonderful, so enthusiastic and still spinning the ball a great deal.


The opposition was pretty good. They were club cricketers but club cricket in Pakistan is of a very high standard and a match that we played against Arif Abbasi's team at the Arabian Sea Country Club in Karachi, contained a number of former first class and Test cricketers. Every team we came up against seemed to have a few former first class cricketers in their ranks.


It was such a success that we will definitely organise another tour and go back to Pakistan again. As long as you are sensible there is absolutely no problem at all in international teams playing cricket in Pakistan.


PakPassion.net: Can we expect more books on Pakistan cricket from you in future?
Peter Oborne: Well I cannot stop myself from going to Pakistan. I have a number of ideas for books on Pakistan cricket but one book I’m going to produce with Richard Heller is a companion volume on Pakistani cricket. There are so many magical stories and incredible people that I want to produce a volume of sketches and personality sketches and detailing the amazing moments of Pakistan cricket history for instance, the amazing defeat of Dera Ismail Khan by Pakistan Railways by an innings and 851 runs back in 1964. We tracked down some of the players and I’ll write an account of that match. Also we’ll write about the charismatic Prince Aslam who many believe was the actual inventor of the doosra in the 1950s. So I’m going to come back at the history of Pakistan cricket and look at some of the characters that I didn’t get a chance to write about in Wounded Tiger.


(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2014 PakPassion.Net)