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Book Review: Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan by Peter Oborne

As I write this, the man widely considered as the best spin bowler in the world and Pakistan's main wicket-taking-force, is facing an investigation into his bowling action.

As I write this, the man widely considered as the best spin bowler in the world and Pakistan's main wicket-taking-force, is facing an investigation into his bowling action.

Additionally, Saeed Ajmal's predecessor and Pakistan's highest wicket-taking-spinner, Danish Kaneria has been refused an appeal against a life ban for match-fixing claims.

And all of this, after the Pakistan cricket team managed to lose a test match where they scored over 450 runs in their first innings and seconds before a torrential downpour which would have seen them earn a draw.

Most teams, institutions, and even nations would be in crisis mode amongst such tumultuous goings on.

Not, however, Pakistan.

Such occurrences are a rendezvous into a cricketing history that resembles more a movie director's on-screen fantasy, and less any serious sporting tradition.

When Pakistan performed a clean sweep of the 2012 Test series against, what a vacuous English cricketing fraternity was keen to emphasise at every given opportunity, as the number one ranked Test team, the triumph was remarkable for several reasons.

Chief amongst these was the fact that it took place only eighteen months after three of the nation's cricketers had brought the game and the country to its knees.

The scandal cost Pakistan its captain, premier swing bowler and world cricket's brightest young star.

And yet despite the lowest of low ebbs it was England who found themselves lost in the wilderness of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

After the Pakwash in the desert one cricket commentator made the pertinent point that the Pakistan cricket team is probably the most interesting sports team in the world.

The double-edged statement was not lost on cricket lovers who have attempted to find some method in all the madness.

In Wounded Tiger the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, has not been overawed in finding some coherent narrative amongst the chaos.

Given the hostility towards Pakistan and its cricketers that has become a favourite tradition of the English press it is fitting that one of its very own sets the record straight.

Not only does Oborne provide the reality behind the myths and conspiracies, but does justice to a long misunderstood cricketing tradition.

Amongst the various revealing insights is the fact that this prejudice on part of the English is not a recent phenomenon, but an old occurrence, which includes amongst other things the kidnapping of a Pakistani umpire by England's cricketers.

The book is full of original testimonies from ex-players, officials, politicians and military men, all of whom have had a hand in the triumphs and tragedies.

Like most things in Pakistan there is not one official version for any single incident and Oborne includes the varying accounts and does well to make some sense of them.

The early chapters look at the history of cricket in pre-partition North West India, large parts of which had no history or interest in game of the imperial masters.

The establishment of cricket played a vital role in the new nation's quest to form an identity.

Various political and military establishments have used the Sport to further their own agendas and, at times, provided growth or indeed hindered the development of cricket in Pakistan. A chaotic domestic structure that is as foreign to those within the country as it is to those outside, forms an essential part of the work.

The power of the game in Pakistan is not lost among the multitude of ingredients. Cricket is the one platform that unites liberal secular, military and religious fundamental forces that are currently pulling the country in different directions.

What is revealing is that much of the political intrigue of Pakistan cricket has its roots at the very inception of the national team.

There is even a look at Pakistan's women cricketers who have not been immune from the personality clashes and power grabs that have polluted the men's game.

This fascinating section of the book tells amongst other things the battles between rival camps from Karachi and Lahore who were determined to become the pioneers for the Pakistani women cricketers.

Oborne's narrative is dominated by several central characters and families whose footprints on the landscape of Pakistan cricket are more pronounced than any others.

AH Kardar is one of these and his usurping of the dignified Mian Saeed (Pakistan's first test captain) laid down a precedent for the position to become more often than not a poison chalice.

And yet Kardar living up to his paradoxical nature was one of the very few who was able to overcome the plotting and intrigue and give his country a platform on the world stage.

Like Imran Khan with Javed Miandad, and Wasim Akram with Waqar Younis later on, Kardar owed much of the early success to a partnership as harmonious on the field as it was riddled with suspicions of it.

Fazal Mahmood was the early instigator of a fast bowling tradition that has formed the backbone of great Pakistani sides.

Oborne does well in capturing not only his achievements in bowling out a Len Hutton, Dennis Compton and Brian Statham inspired England at the Oval in 1954 but also gives the background story of a man who suffered the traumas of partition and dared to dream big.

From its very inception the newest team on a stage dominated by two old masters in Australia and England would not be subjugated easily.

Honour in defeat that has been the hallmark of each new member of the Imperial Cricket Conference (precursor to the ICC) and continues indefinitely with Bangladesh would not be Pakistan's fate.

In fact Pakistan played the biggest role in breaking the hegemony of the Ashes companions over world cricket.

From the beginning this was an untamed beast one that has failed to temper its own prodigious nature and at times turned on itself. Humiliated one day inspired the next.

Wounded Tiger, much like its subject, has something for everyone. For the die-hards it provides pride in a tradition that gave the world reverse swing and the 'doosra'; a delivery that has fundamentally altered the off-spinners role within a cricket team.

On the other hand there are reality checks aplenty and sombre lessons of what could have been with more stable and competent administrations.

For the more academic-minded there is history, politics, war, tribalism and geography- all important features and factors in the story of how the gentleman's game became Pakistan's obsession.

And for everyone else there is a cast of heroes, villains, anti- heroes and rags to riches stories all wrapped up in a narrative of nation building, diplomacy, match fixing, terrorism, innovation and the quest for glory and national honour.

Wounded Tiger: a History of Cricket in Pakistan by Peter Oborne, 624pp, Simon & Schuster, Telegraph offer price: £20 (PLUS £1.95 p&p) (RRP £25, ebook £18.38)

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