Book Review: 'Sultan', Wasim Akram's Memoir

In almost 20 years of international cricket, Wasim Akram played 104 Tests and 356 ODIs for Pakistan.

5 min read
Hindi Female

Book: Sultan a Memoir

Authors: Wasim Akram and Gideon Haigh


It was on Boxing Day, December 26, 2003, Wasim Akram, once Pakistan’s greatest left-arm bowler and then a commentator for ESPN Star Sports, met a very unusual visitor: A cab driver. 

The lanky Suleiman was from Multan and I had brought him right into the courtyard of the magnificent Melbourne cricket ground to meet his hero.

I called Akram from the commentary box - lucky he was on a break - and he took the elevator to walk out of the building to meet Suleiman, a father of five driving a cab in Melbourne for over a decade. Akram smiled, signed autographs and even posed for photographs. It showed the human face of one of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of cricket. 


Many such anecdotes fill Sultan, his biography written with Gideon Haigh, who - along with Peter Lalor - is arguably the finest cricket writer in the world. The book grips you right from the start, Akram writes about his life in the dinghy bylanes of Lahore’s Ahmed Pura and how he shaped his bowling in Mozang Road and grew up on eating naan rotis and chickpeas in the neighbourhood.

The ever-smiling Akram proudly lists that he has bowled 80,000 deliveries in first-class cricket and as many during his training schedule. I saw a brief television solo of Akram where he fondly recollected how he walked into a cricketing camp and returned disappointed on the first day because he was not asked to bowl. His superiors spoke to the camp organisers - it always works in Pakistan - and the next day Akram got an old ball at the fag end of the camp. He impressed instantly and then the next morning he started with a new ball. Akram further impressed his seniors then bowled to the then Pakistan skipper Javed Miandad at the Gaddafi stadium nets in Lahore. The rest is history, including his meeting at an airport in Australia with Imran Khan who groomed Akram to be the champion of the world, shaping his fast-bowling muscles from top of the head to the tips of the tea. And then he capped it with the brilliant man of the match award in the finals of 1992 ICC World Cup.


Brutally honest, this biography doesn't attempt any typical sweet talk that cricketers from India and Pakistan love once they drop the national colours and start playing for local clubs for loads of cash (read Indian Premier League). Akram, who let his bowling do all the talking for almost two decades, has listed everything in the book like the bold bowler he was when he started his run-up. The book has all the drama, all the controversies and all the mysteries that gripped Akram. Yet, he does not fall to retire, he rises from the ashes time and again like the proverbial Phoenix. 

I loved the chapter titled Guru where Akram recounts the magical delivery to Kim Hughes during the World Championships of Cricket in 1985. Imran told him to bowl a bouncer amidst fears that the umpire could call it a no ball. Khan told Akram to keep it short just outside the off stump. Hughes, who had a reputation for cross-bat shots, won’t be able to resist, Imran was confident. Hughes top edged to mid-on and Imran took the catch. Akram grew in confidence, his deliveries eventually getting him some of the world’s most prized wickets of Vivian Richards, Ian Botham and Sachin Tendulkar.

And then, in the chapter, The Reluctant Captain, Akram very boldly lists the horrendous incident that rattled the Pakistani team while on tour of the Caribbean islands in 1993: Some members of the team were arrested by cops on alleged charges of smoking marijuana. Eventually, all charges were dropped and good sense prevailed. Akram does not skip the incidents that took place, he narrates in vivid detail what happened in those nightmarish days and nights. He, actually, set the story straight and ended all speculations in a very frank manner.


Akram bowls some superb deliveries when he talks about cricket’s dirty underbelly, the sleaze cash that marred many careers in Pakistan. Dirty cash has also messed Indian cricket but I am yet to come across a single cricketer talking about the mess. Worse, a petition is still pending in the Supreme Court that has refused to open the envelope which has names of Indian cricketers who a retired judge wanted to be probed for their alleged involvement in spot fixing. But Akram is bold when he writes: “What I hadn’t realised and most outsiders still don’t, was how susceptible our system was to malpractice - because, frankly, Pakistani society was.

When you become a member of Pakistan's cricket team, you join a very tiny elite of the population, around which whirled a swirl of satellites. You had money, you had glamour, you had access. You often defaulted to trusting those you’d known longest - family and long-term friends. But they could be just as dangerous.” And then, in the same tone he (sadly) writes: “More Pakistani cricket careers have suffered for a want of advice than a want of talent.” 

Akram talks about his dislike for his next-door neighbour Zafar Iqbal - even Akram’s wife Huma did not like Iqbal - and how allegations of malpractice haunted him every time some charges or the other cropped up. Akram feels sad - it comes out very clearly in the book - when he talks about the Ata-Ur-Rehman incident where Rehman accused Akram of offering him a bribe to bowl badly in the one-day international series against New Zealand. Writes Akram: “Much of this period, I must confess, is a blank to me. It is like a trauma. I have completely repressed. Only recently have I had the nerve to revisit it.”


And then, the mother of all matches, the 1992 ICC World Cup final. We all have ESPNCricinfo on our handsets and we all get what we wish to read about world cricket, so I would not recap the finals. I would rather pick up the last lines of Akram to explain what happened at the MCG that day against England. “When Imran took the last wicket in the final over to consummate our 22-run win, we sank to our knees, in relief, and thanks to our God. It was the eighteenth day of Ramadan, and late afternoon in Pakistan. People were about to break their fasts, as we had broken ours in the World Cup.”

So, what about issues of ball tampering, that electrifying night of the World Cup quarterfinal in Bangalore of the 1996 ICC World Cup, two marriages and diabetes? Well, you need to pick up a copy and read it through. What a brilliant read.

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Topics:  Wasim Akram 

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