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Former Pakistan PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was useful right-handed batsman, claims new book

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto © Getty Images
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto © Getty Images

New Delhi: Jul 20, 2014

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a useful right-handed batsman, who played for the Sunder Cricket Club in Bombay and University of California and was occasionally used as opener, says a new book on the country’s cricket history.

Had he gone to Oxford first for his studies instead of California he could have earned a place in the cricket team of the university and the famous Blue, it also says. Oxford has been graced by some of the most famous cricketers of all time, producing many Blues who have gone on to represent their country such as Imran Khan, Douglas Jardine, and Mike Smith.

Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in PakistanWounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan by British journalist Peter Oborne is an insight into the nation’s tryst with the game, digging deep into the political, social and cultural history and is packed with memories from former players and top administrators.

“Bhutto was more than a star-struck fan. He was also a useful right-handed batsman, who played for the Sunder Cricket Club in Bombay, where he was occasionally used as opener. In his autobiography, Abdul Hafeez Kardar asserted that Bhutto was a good enough cricketer to have earned a Blue had he attended Oxford first, and then the University of California at Berkeley, rather than the other way around,” the book, published by Simon & Schuster, says.

The book also mentions the cricketing pursuits of current Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who played a First-Class match though he was out for a duck and also a warm-up match against England before the World Cup in which he scored a single before being bowled by Phil DeFreitas.

Oborne says Bhutto was a decent player and crazy about cricket when he was a youngster and loved to be near cricket stars, such as Mushtaq Ali, who scored India’s first Test century overseas, or the precocious Alimuddin, Pakistan’s Test opening batsman who appeared for Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy.

He says that according to Kardar, Bhutto’s “interest in cricket was that of a scholar. He knew the history of cricket, including such technical developments as the introduction of the third wicket and the sightscreen”.

Oborne quotes Bhutto’s friend Omar Kureishi, a newspaper columnist, author and radio commentator in describing Bhutto’s cricketing prowess, “We had been schoolboys together at the cathedral School in Bombay. We had played cricket, indeed that had been the bond.”

Kureishi later travelled to study at the University of California, where he was soon joined by Bhutto. They shared lodgings and played cricket together at Griffith Park for a club called the Corinthians, for whom Bhutto opened the batting.

Oborne, however, feels that Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, unlike most of his successors, had little interest in cricket, though he probably played it while at school in the Sindh Madrasa in Karachi.

According to the author, cricket writing about Pakistan has sometimes fallen into the wrong hands and has been carried out by people who do not like Pakistan, are suspicious of Pakistanis and have their own preconceptions.

“English journalists have tended to follow suit, with the result that Pakistan cricketers emerge as caricatures: Javed Miandad as a hooligan; Imran Khan as a princely scion in the tradition of Ranji; A H Kardar as a fanatic. None of these crude images bear much connection with reality.

He says Pakistani cricket is a relatively unexplored subject. “The library at Lord’s is rich in volumes from every major cricketing nation. Pakistan occupies barely half a shelf. If this book does nothing else, I hope it will stimulate an interest in Pakistan cricket.”

“Everywhere I went in Pakistan, I was aware that people feel a huge sense of pride in their country. Cricket is played in the plains of Sindh and in the mountains of the north. It is played by the army and the Taliban. It is enjoyed by all Pakistan’s sects and religions.”

The author rates Imran Khan highly. “Imran Khan took charge at a vital moment in the evolution of Pakistan cricket. From the late 1970s onward, the game was exploding in popularity and significance. Pakistan cricketers were no longer patronised by the dominant white cricketing nations. Instead, they came to be feared and resented. The balance of power titled. All these changes took place during Imran’s period of dominance, and he came personally to represent the cricketing consciousness of the new era,” he writes.

He then mentions an anecdote about how a holy man predicted that Imran will make a comeback after he retired from the game after the World Cup in 1987.  Imran had first declined when the Pakistan cricket board formally asked him to rejoin the national squad. “A series was looming against the West Indies and Gen Zia uttered a personal plea. Eventually Imran was unable to resist,” Oborne writes.

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