- Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan by Peter Oborne
Few sports have received as much literary consideration as cricket. However, the bulk of this attention has been paid to the likes of England and Australia, while the exploits of other cricketing countries—such as the West Indies and Pakistan—are only beginning to emerge as a focus of interest in their own right. Peter Oborne’s thoroughly researched and well-written Wounded Tiger is perhaps the first all-encompassing examination of Pakistani cricket from pre-Partition to present day (Osman Samiuddin’s The Unquiet Ones, 2015, may be its only rival). Wounded Tiger is a marvelous book that is essential reading for anyone interested both in the history of postwar cricket and the history of Pakistan.
More than simply a chronology of matches and players, Oborne illuminates the political and economic role cricket has played in Pakistan. Perhaps most notable in Oborne’s narrative are the beginnings of Pakistani cricket, both in the Partition era and throughout the team’s quest for international legitimacy. When Pakistan defeated England in a test match at the Oval in London in 1954, it appeared that Pakistani cricket was on the rise. But, as Oborne notes, perpetual political and financial crises at home led to few international matches, particularly in the 1960s. Indeed, throughout much of Pakistan’s cricket history, entire eras and careers were lost or cut short by issues at home. Oborne’s analysis of Pakistani cricket since 1992 is a case in point. The age of massive expansion in world cricket (particularly in terms of one-day cricket competitions, franchise-style cricket, and [End Page 363] the increase in players’ salaries that followed) created tension between player and country for many nations. However, few Pakistani cricketers have been given a release from their national team duties to pursue higher-paying opportunities that, perhaps inevitably, has led to several high-profile match-fixing scandals involving Pakistani players. Since 2001, much of the country has also been impacted by civil war, the U.S.-led “war on terror,” and domestic terrorism. In particular, a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lanka cricket team in 2009 meant that all of Pakistan’s “home” matches are now played in Abu Dhabi, creating, in essence, a nomadic national team whose players spend upward of eleven months a year away from family and friends. Given the tumultuous history of Pakistan over the past three generations, it is near-miraculous that Pakistan fields a cricket team at all, let alone one that has produced some of the finest players and tactics the sport has ever known. One such player is Imran Khan, the finest cricketer in Pakistan’s history and one of the greatest players in the sport’s history, and Oborne dedicates an entire era of his analysis to Khan’s cricketing years from 1976–92, which was also the era of Pakistan’s greatest triumphs on the pitch. The fact that Khan is now a politician perhaps demonstrates Oborne’s analysis that politics and cricket are never far apart in Pakistan.
From a practical standpoint, knowledge of cricket, at least the basics of scoring, terminology, and format, is recommended (though not essential) for readers of this book. Some knowledge of the history of the Asian subcontinent since the Second World War would also illuminate particular sections of the book. As a course text, it would make for good secondary reading for a Pakistani history course and ought to be on the reading list of any course in Asian sport history.