“Controversially Yours” arguably has to be the most wayward delivery bowled by Shoaib Akthar in his career till date! Irreverent, irascible and for the most part injudicious, this is an autobiography that in the end analysis, leaves a lot to be desired. One singularly glaring feature of this autobiography is the extraordinary self-praise and gloating contained within the covers. If at all a digitized version of the book was to be released, the publishers may rightly mull about on changing the title of the same to “iBoast” or something similar to such effect. Shoaib and his collaborator seem to have lost sight of the fundamental tenet that whilst an autobiography is about the concerned author, it is not – ‘ONLY’ about the concerned author. Messrs Akthar and company would have done well to have read a few memorable autobiographies in recent times such as those penned by the erudite Marcus Trescothik and the Iceman Steve Waugh, prior to embarking on such an important endeavor!
While the rise of this mercurial fast bowler from the depths of abject poverty to claim and fame is indeed an achievement to be admired and appreciated, it is paradoxical to note that such a humbling experience has not instilled a sense of humility in this cricketer. At regular intervals throughout the book, the reader is treated to a tiring litany of self-eulogy and encomiums. Whether it be self-proclaiming himself to be a miracle man (when he says that the outcome of the World Cup 2011 semi-final between India & Pakistan would have been different if he had played the game), or a self-anointed Casanova (“And there were girls everywhere. I was the star performer, so you can imagine how many of them crowded around me….”), Shoaib seems to be the epitome of arrogance and haughtiness!
Another feature which arouses the interest of the reader is Shoaib’s seemingly preternatural ability to rub anybody associated with cricket on the wrong side with equal equanimity and absolute impartiality! Profanities are liberally exchanged with cricket administrators, fellow team mates and opponents alike, and a willow is also swung hard in the dressing room contacting a bewildered Mohammed Asif on the thighs, thereby leading to a suspension! Other than the imperious Imran Khan and Brain Lara, no cricketer or captain seems to be deserving of Akthar’s acclaim or appreciation! Other than alleging the lack of match-winning capabilities of Sachin and Rahul, he also goes on to add for good measure that Indian batmen are known for playing for themselves over the cause of their team. Inzamam, Akram and Javed Miandad also cop their share of allegations and are accused of various levels of in competencies.
However where the book scores and is absorbing, if not riveting is when it comes to absolute and raw candor of the final 3 chapters. One of them embeds a no holds barred purgatory about the functioning (or the absolute lack of it) on the part of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Alleging that the same is staffed by cronies and administrators’ having no knowledge about the game, the book provides an amazing insight into the nerve racking and debilitating politics being played out behind the scenes. Another chapter exclusively dedicated to the “Pakistani Dressing Room” equates the confines of the dressing room to “a place where wild animals are packed together”!! Fistfights, flashing knives and swinging bats seem to be a given and acrimonies between players take the form of absolute silence as well as full-fledged slanging contests.
While Shoaib tries to be as candid as possible about various controversial issues such as ball tampering (he alleges that every bowler tampers with the ball on account of dead tracks), his chronically recurring knee, rib and hamstring injuries (instances of tubes sticking out of his knees post a surgery and injections being administered directly into the knees are revelatory), elements of such frankness and honesty are unfortunately masked in the maze of vain glorious self-praise. For instance, an incessant and much embellished mention of his penchant for running during his early childhood days makes one wonder as to whether some pages from the autobiography of Carl Lewis or Usain Bolt have been mistakenly appended to this book. Such narrations sadly relegate to the background more inspiring and heart wrenching stuff such as marble chips eating into the back of an aspiring fast bowler who had no option but to sleep on a hard surface encrusted with sharp marble chips or on the pavement in the company of a kindred tonga driver, who for this generosity is paid a visit when the youngster becomes a “star cricketer”.
There is no doubt that the verisimilitude of many facts mentioned in the autobiography would be debated, denied, disputed and deliberated by the various characters named therein. Facts such as a constant stream of girls making their way in and out of dressing rooms, match fixing charges against players and the serious attribution of ineptitude on the part of many former captains and administrators are not trivial remarks by any stretch of imagination. Whether it is an act of foolish bravado or a courageous act in a reformist vein, only time will tell.
While the sight of a fully fit Shoaib Akthar bounding in at full steam to bowl an unplayable delivery, has no doubt been one of the great spectacles of the cricketing world over the past many years, alas the same cannot be said about his autobiography by any stretch of imagination. It is as though in one fell swoop, the Rawalpindi Express has been metaphorically, symbolically and figuratively – ‘derailed’.
Controversially Yours – widely off the mark!!