Transcript: Couch Talk with Saad Shafqat

Couch Talk Episode 83 (play)

Guest: Saad Shafqat (Cricket Writer)

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Navigate to various sections of the conversation by clicking on the following links

Introduction           How Saad came to co-write Miandad’s autobiography         Miandad’s Origins        Entry in to Pak Team     Relationship with Imran       Captaincy           Competitiveness             Night Watchman Piece


Subash Jayaraman (SJ): Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Saad Shafqat, who writes for Cricinfo and co-wrote the autobiography of probably the greatest Pakistani batsmen, Javed Miandad. Saad paints a picture about Miandad’s origin and background and how these played into him being the player he was, Miandad’s relationship with Imran Khan and helps us in understanding the inveterate competitor that Miandad still is.

Welcome to the show, Saad.

Saad Shafqat– Thanks, Subash. Thanks for inviting me.

SJ– It is my absolute pleasure having you on.

You co-wrote Javed Miandad’s autobiography, ‘Cutting Edge’, and you also have a long form piece coming in the 2nd edition of the Nightwatchman, the Wisden quarterly, called ‘Miandad and I’. We will get to that piece in a little bit. First, for the benefit of the listeners that may not have read your earlier piece on cricinfo about how you came to meet Miandad and how you came to write his book, would you tell us that story?

SS– The story is pretty much that Miandad has a lot of fans and I happen to be one of them. My cricket watching started in the mid 1970s, pretty much in the same time he came on to the international scene, in 1976. He just grabbed my brain and he just dominated all my thoughts. The same time I woke up to the pleasures of cricket, Miandad being the central figure in Pakistan cricket – the new bright spot- he just took over my imagination.

In all these years that I followed him, there was a lot of fan worship. As the years passed, I thought I would enjoy writing about Pakistan cricket in general, but Miandad specifically. Unfortunately, that was not very feasible because I had begun medical studies. I got quite distracted, and I ended up going to the USA for a little over a decade. That was a very busy time during residency and fellowship. It wasn’t until 2000, when I moved back to Pakistan when I could get back to this idea of writing about Miandad.

To be honest, I had expected, while I was in the USA in 1989-2000, that his book will come out. In fact, I was in a way dreading that one day his book will be out and someone will beat me to it. That didn’t happen. When I came back, I started looking out for ways to get in touch. Thanks to a close friend, whose name is Raju Jameel, who happens to be a real cricket buff and a well connected guy and knew a few cricketers. He put me in touch with Miandad. As you can imagine, when I first approached Miandad, he was quite dismissive because I wasn’t a journalist and did not have a record of writing on cricket back then. He asked me “Why are you wasting my time?”

SJ– So, how did you convince him that you should be the one writing his autobiography?

SS– Basically, I had to go through his wife. He completely dismissed the idea outright. He said “I don’t know who you are. What have you done?” I said I haven’t done much and he replied “Why are you wasting my time?” I was very dejected, crushed. My wife and I sat down together. She said “These celebrity people- this is how they are expected to react. You will have to be persistent. If you want to do something that is in the public domain, then you have to have a thick skin and keep trying again and again.” She also suggested that if you could go through somebody who has a lot of influence on Miandad and not go back to Miandad again, because he would just react.

So, we came up the idea of getting in touch with his wife. It was not a hard thing to do because Miandad was living in Lahore at that time and he is married into one of the wealthy families. His address in Lahore was well known. So, I wrote up a chapter and I showed up at his house in Lahore and rang the bell and asked to see Mrs Miandad. I was lucky enough to be granted a brief audience. She took the manuscripts, scanned it. She told, “we have been struggling with the idea on how to get his book done. Just leave it to me.” After that, somehow she worked her magic. I got a call from Miandad a couple of months later.

SJ– Fantastic. Tell us- his exploits in cricket and his personality that has been in view since 1975 when he debuted for Pakistan.

SS– 1975 was his ODI debut. 1976 was his Test debut.

SJ– Yes. But, let’s step back a little and see how as a young boy from the streets of Karachi, he always gave this persona of a street wise, smart guy who knows his way around things, a chalu. Tell us about his upbringing, the environment he was in, and how that played into what Miandad came to be.

SS– That is a terrific question. He is very much a cultural product of middle class Karachi. The area that he grew up in is an area called Ranchor, a colonial name named after an Englishman Ranchore. In Urdu, we just call it Ranchor Lines. It is the heart of the real middle class, the inner city, old city neighbourhood image. That is what Ranchor Lines is. It is, loosely, like the Harlem of New York. There is a core neighbourhood in every city. Ranchor Lines, at that time, in the 1950s and 1960s was that for Karachi. It has close knit families, congested narrow streets. That is the environment that he grew up in.

Cricket wise, if you look at what cricket was to the society, it was a pass-time, but also something more sociological. It was an instrument in which you can excel and at a national level, you can also compete with the best in the world. Miandad, early on, played on the street. As you know, in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, everyone plays on the streets. It is changing a bit now. But, in those days, it was pretty much standard.

He was growing up in those environment. He picked up all the tricks of the trade. He had a number of advantages. He of course had his biological advantage- he was good at the game. He grew up in a family where cricket had a very important influence. His father was an official in the Karachi Cricket Association. His brothers also ended up playing first class cricket. So, there was a lot of home influence as well. His father, there was a lot of ambition that his father had for himself that he passed on to his elder brother. Eventually, Miandad was the one who satisfied all of that ambitions that the family had been incubating.

SJ– You have a certain amount of influence from the family in how you play the cricket. How you play cricket can be seen in two ways – in terms of techniques and skills. Some are born with it, some because you are around it. Then, there is the survivalist aspect of it.

You mentioned Harlem. You see a basketball player, he is singularly motivated to get out of it. And basketball is a ticket out of it. For that, you have to be fiercely individualistic and self absorbed and be like “this is my ticket out of Ranchor Lines of Karachi.” Cricket is seen as an upper middle class, high class pass-time. How did he fit into that fabric?

SS– Another excellent, penetrating question, Subash. I don’t think it was so much a  question of escape. He was using it as a means of achievement. I don’t think it was so much as survival as it was that “here is an arena where I can excel and let me show the world what I can do.”

When he was growing up, they weren’t poor by any standard, but they weren’t rich either. They were, by definition, middle class. His father was in the Karachi Cricket Association, his father used to play amateur cricket. The number of Pakistan cricketers like the Mohammed brothers, they would show up sometimes and play in those matches. Miandad had that influence as well.

The other aspect that you were saying, in terms of “how can I make the most out of this situation?” That is also a kind of gift that Miandad is endowed with. His brothers are not like that. His eldest brother, whom he looked up to as a mentor, his name is Bashir. His father always thought that it would be Bashir who would get into Test cricket, when the boys were young. Bashir ended up being a very sedate, laidback easy going sort of person. Again, products of the same environment, but that is just the way he turned out to be. It has to do with just not the environmental mix, but with the environmental mix combining with Miandad’s particular biological nature and personality.

SJ– Coming from India, I have this image of Miandad that he is capable of anything. Rightfully so. He is always thinking, he is up to something. Something is cooking in his mind. When he first entered the national set up, you had people like Imran, Mushtaq Mohammad, Amjad Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal, all these guys. How did he fit into that? He of course went on to outshine all of them as a batsman.

SS– That also goes to point out the point you made on upper middle class and upper class presence in Pakistani cricket. You are right. If you look at the ‘50s and even in the ‘60s, people like [Abdul] Kardar, Fazal Mahmood, Majid Khan- all of these upper crust aristocrats were present in the team. They weren’t the only one. Numerically, they were only a minority. They were very noticeable because of who they were and the class that they represented. That is not the only element that comprises the Pakistani cricket.

There was also the other stream. For example, the Mohammed brothers came from a background and a setting that was not too dissimilar from the environment Miandad emerged from. In that sense, I won’t say that he was really an outsider. In fact, in many ways, he was an insider. His father being a member at the Karachi Cricket Association and being friends with a number of international cricketers helped quite a bit, giving him access and training him for the future.

SJ– I am not saying that he was a rank outsider. We all have the image of Miandad as all-knowing person. But, when he makes a debut as a 17 year old fresh faced boy surrounded by these big names. From that point of view, how did he fit in?

SS– The cricketers that I have been able to speak with, for example, Asif Iqbal, said he was like that form the very beginning. Even his older brother told me that even before he got into international cricket, that was the way he was. Very smart boy with a lot of lip who would never back down. He would just give back as good as he got.

Asif Iqbal told a story, when Miandad made his debut. In a Test match against New Zealand in Lahore, Pakistan had found themselves all of a sudden at 55-4 in the opening day. 55-4 in any class of cricket is a crisis. Miandad walked out to join Asif after the top order was gone. He was very brash, almost like a young Cassius Clay sort of person. Stepping out on the front foot all the time. Even against the seamers, he was ready to tackle them head on. Asif thought in the beginning that “here is a rookie. I will have to mentor this guy. I am going to take on the senior role. We have to reconstruct the innings.” But, Asif said that within a couple of overs, Miandad was giving advice to Asif. That took Asif by surprise. After that surprise wore down, he immediately realised that we have got one for the future.

Then, something happened. If you look at the early 1970s, the dominant people are the ones who you named – Zaheer, Mushtaq, Majid, Asif. Imran made his debut in 1971, but he wasn’t prominent then. He was in and out of the tema. He was not recognized as a frontline fast bowler until the mid-70s. As the decade goes on, Imran and Miandad very quickly emerge as two giants of the team. By the time the 1980s started, they had eclipsed everyone else. When the 1980s ended, when Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992, these were the two guys left standing and everybody else were a small change compared to them. A sociological change took place in the 1970s. Imran and Miandad were at the center of it.

SJThat was going to be my next thing to ask you. The dynamic between Miandad and Imran Khan. They are two vastly different personalities. Imran Khan with the looks of a movie hero- smooth suave, the charisma, from Lahore. And you have this wily street-smart tough guy form Karachi. They made it work. They had to co-exist for Pakistan’s sake. They had this unlikely combination. There was the “No third man” piece you had written on this.

Explain a bit about how it was. Initially, it was about one player under the other’s captaincy, and vice versa. Talk a bit about the dynamic between those two.

SS– The way I was able to reconstruct it, it was pretty clear that as you were saying, Imran was the guy who was the aristocrat, and Miandad was the wily guy who was not of the same class. Just like Imran was the cool guy in the club everybody wants to hang out with, and so, Miandad was also seeking his company. They did become friends because they were in county cricket together, they played with Sussex for a couple of summers together. Being two young guys in a team, there was  an automatic bond, but that bond was professional. There was a class separation between them and Imran kept his distance. Miandad was the one who wanted to be close to Imran.

Even today, if you have a Lahori aristocrat, honourable ancestral lineage, landed aristocracy, family money and class, you have an individual like that and you have someone with Miandad’s background from middle class Karachi, who has grown up in a tough environment- you put them together in any sphere of life and similar kind of dynamics will play out. You put them in a multinational corporate organization, they will start at the same level, they both got MBAs, but when they rise through the corporation they will have the same kind of tension playing out. Because one is of lesser class and one is of higher.

But the real magic that both Imran and Miandad should be credited is that despite the tensions of being from different social class and despite the naturally competitive tension that you have between your teammates or classmates, these two realised that this is a team sport. And, in a team sport we have a talent that we can excel. It is about time we show the world what Pakistan cricket is capable of. Something clicked. Both of them realised that they are better off cooperating than not cooperating. I think that realisation came sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. They saw it in each other. That became a very productive partnership.

It was still not equal. I don’t think it was ever equal and certainly not equal now. Sociologically speaking, Imran had always had the upper hand. Even in the cricket team Imran was always the captain. Miandad did captain Imran in a few matches. But, Imran’s captaincy remains the dominant legacy. Imran was the guy with the advantages. Miandad had to play second fiddle. But, he played an important role as the tactical lieutenant. Whenever he was called upon, he gave it his best.

SJ– in professional sport, for example, let us take the Los Angeles Lakers, you have Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and they didn’t like each other. Off the court, they hated each other, actually. But, Phil Jackson made them realise that they had to work together. Was it something that happened between Miandad and Imran or did they have to figure it out on their own? Was it an intermediary who made them realise the potential of Pakistan if they were to work together?

SS– There were intermediaries, but I think the intellectual leap that cooperation is critical and will lead to great rewards came from Miandad. It probably happened when Miandad was removed from his captaincy, and this was a dark episode in his career, in 1981, when the team rebelled against him and the team said that they won’t play under him. The PCB chief at that time, Air Marshal Nur Khan, he still kept persisting with Miandad saying that “No, Miandad is officially appointed. We will back him. He is the person we have chosen.” Miandad was also willing to go along. At one point, there were 6 or 7 or 8 players who refused to play and Nur Khan at one point said that we will go with the 2nd XI if we have to.

One person switched loyalties. Imran, initially, was neutral. But then, when Imran joined the rebellion, Miandad knew that the game was up. Imran was the lynchpin of the team as an extremely talented cricketer in all parts of the game. Miandad realised that “OK. So now Imran is also against me.” He was deeply hurt, he retreated in to a shell. He licked his wounds. He wallowed in grief.

But, when he came out of that, it took a few months, he realised “OK, I have to accept Imran.” What helped him in accepting Imran was that Imran was just so damn good. He was a great leader – he led from the front, led by example. He worked extremely hard and he produced results on the field. He won Miandad’s respect. Miandad then decided that this is the time, even if I have to be no.2 to Imran, that is a great cause. If that is the way I can deliver for the team, so be it.

I would credit Miandad ultimately, because Imran, even today, I can’t speak for now, but in 1998 when Imran wrote his book “All Round View”, and he talked about Miandad performing in the WI tour of 1988, when we were on the top of the world. Miandad made two fantastic centuries. Even then, Imran is very grudging in acknowledging Miandad’s contribution, and very grudgingly gives him respect. There is a paragraph on who is the best Pakistani batsman of all time. He gives the title to Hanif (Mohammed). He takes it away from Miandad. That is some of the tension that is permanent in their relationship.

SJIf you just look across the border – Sachin Tendulkar is easily the best batsman India has produced, by numbers and Miandad Pakistan’s. But these two were not great captaincy material. Could it be that in the sole pursuit of being the best batsman, it could be that that has averted them from being better captains? If you look at Imran Khan, he comes in and becomes a great captain. And then, Sourav Ganguly comes in from this high society as well, he comes in and captains India and India takes off to another level. What stopped Miandad from being a better captain than he ended up being?

SS– What stopped him from being a better captain was simply that he did not have the maturity and confidence to lead a group of men. There is no doubt about his tactical genius on the cricket field. His tactical achievement and his willingness to give tactical advice to Imran selflessly – he is responsible for a lot of Imran’s success. Imran’s magic was that he could lead by example. People rallied under him, around him. Miandad could not inspire in that manner. He wasn’t able to motivate people in the same ways as Imran could.

Miandad also reacts quite a bit. Even as a leader, if someone says something negative, you have to have a thick skin. Miandad doesn’t. He has a very thin skin. So, if something happens and if somebody looks you the wrong way or if someone makes a snide remark, 9 out of 10 times you better ignore it looking at the bigger picture. But, Miandad’s nature is to not let go of things easily. That also brought him down a little bit. He got into scrapes with seniors like Zaheer, Majid and others. So, as a captain, there was a rebellion.

Imran was also an unlikely captain. If you look at what was being said at that time, the captaincy after Miandad rebellion became a three-way race. Imran was one of the options. Majid Khan was being considered and Zaheer Abbas was another option. From the point of view of the fans and the cricket circles and the board, Imran was not an automatic choice. Many people thought that a fast bowler has to do yeoman duty and cannot be distracted with intellectual pursuits or mental load of being a captain. And from this three-way tie it was fortuitous that Majid was too old and Zaheer was completely unacceptable as a captain to MIandad. And so, Imran emerged as a compromise candidate. When he was named captain in the 1982 summer tour to England, it was with a lot of trepidation and people weren’t really sure how it would turn out. Of course, the rest is history.

SJ– Of course.

I want to talk a bit about some of the things that you mentioned in the Nightwatchman piece, ‘Miandad and I’. It is a fantastic read, and everyone should get the issue and definitely read it. One thing that I thought was funny and at the same time tells a lot about Miandad – when you dropped him off at the airport because he suddenly realised he had to go to London or somewhere.

SS– He had to go to Lahore.

SJ– Even at the airport, he was like “Why did you let that taxi guy go ahead of us?” that sort of ultimate competitor – he won’t even let some guy cut in front of you in traffic.

SS–  Absolutely. You got it. That’s his game. Any sphere of life you put him in, he has got to be the guy who has to come first. He has got to be the guy who goes ahead. If he sees anybody who beats him fair and square, he will accept it and take it and he will figure out a way to overcome when there is another opportunity. But, if he sees somebody going ahead of him in the wrong way, like somebody overtaking in the car, oh my God. It is just like a rage reaction, and he just can’t let it go. So, you are right, that really is an expression of how competitive he is.

SJ– I quote, you call him the “inveterate competitor”. Do tell us about when Inzamam needed six runs to go past the career tally of Miandad, but he doesn’t and falls short of tying Miandad by 2 runs, do tell us about Miandad’s reaction.

SS– When he and I talked about Inzamam – in fact, my first piece for cricinfo in 2006 or 2007 around the time Inzamam had equalled Miandad’s record of most centuries for Pakistan – we talked about Inzamam then and he acknowledged Inzamam as somebody he admired and respected. He said that when Inzamam was batting with him as the junior partner in the 1992 semifinal against New Zealand, he had recognized that Inzamam is the next hope for Pakistan cricket. He had felt relieved that somebody had come to take the mantle. He had very high regards for Inzamam.

Every now and then when I would talk to him about how the team was doing and how the players were doing, he would always have these choice words, he has the liberal use of swear words to describe all the players. But, he always stopped short of criticising Inzamam. He will always say, “Inzamam? No, no. Inzamam is a great player. He is an excellent player.” So, when Inzamam was approaching the end of his career, he was getting near Miandad’s career aggregate of 8832 runs for Pakistan. I wondered whether this generosity of admiration and respect was still lasting? He started to get competitive. “This is my record for Pakistan. This guy has already made more centuries than me.” What about this career aggregate, which is standing as a very important watermark that is in the psyche of all Pakistani fans?

Inzamam announced his retirement in 2007, when South Africa were visiting Pakistan a couple of matches ahead, or maybe in the beginning of the series. In his last innings, when he went out to bat, he needed only 6 runs to overtake Miandad. I had spoken to Miandad the day before, saying that Inzamam was quite possible to get to the mark if he gets to bat on the last day of the Test. How do you feel? He was like, “Oh! No big deal. Mujhse zyaada runs banaata hai, to, dekhte hain kya hota hai.(If he makes more runs than me, then…let us see what happens). He was not going to get into a discussion on how he is feeling or how he might feel as a hypothetical case if Inzamam would get ahead.  I said, “Alright. Let us see what happens tomorrow.”

To be honest, as a Pakistan cricket fan, I was waiting to see Inzamam get ahead. The records heed to improve all the time. Inzamam, the following day, he comes out to bat, I was watching the game on television. Pakistan had saved the match by that time. It was a big 4th innings target, and Pakistan were safe. It was simply a question of Inzamam easily playing a few shots and scoring the 6 runs. The very first delivery, he plays to mid wicket, to get three runs. The over finishes. The new over is bowled by left arm spinner [Paul Harris]. For some reason, some explosion happened in Inzamam’s head. He decides to dance down the wicket, completely misses the delivery and he is stumped by a good several yards, still two runs short of Miandad’s career record. I was just left gasping. I was watching it with a few other people. Everybody let out a collective gasp.

My first reaction once i was able to collect my thoughts was to pull out my phone. I wanted to talke to Miandad right away. I said, “Javed bhai, did you see what happened?” he was completely “Oh yeah.. haan. No big deal. I saw. What is the big deal?” I said, “How do you feel? Your record is still intact. He was so amazingly near but still couldn’t break it.” Miandad’s response was, and I will say it in Urdu, because that is how he delivered it – “Yaar, dekho, agar woh saala mera record tod bhi deta to woh Miandad thodi ban jaata! (Friend, see, even if he breaks my record, he can’t become Miandad.

SJ– That is the thing. That explains what Miandad is. He is a fascinating character. I have this image about him, from reading about him, that he is like this neighbourhood uncle sitting on a charpai and chewing on his tobacco and giving advice to everybody. That is the image I have.

SS– Yeah, giving all kinds of advice to everybody and doing all kinds of chalu stuffs also. He is that kind of a guy. His mind never stops working. He tries to outthink everyone. But, his nature is also to be very helpful. He has a number of friends. He makes friends very easily. And, when he makes friends, he sticks by them. That is his nature.

SJ– Of course, we all know about the declaration, 280, and all that. You have talked about  it and plenty of things have been written about it. I want to know from you, because you have interacted with Miandad for so long- did he covet the 338 that would have put him ahead of Hanif or did he covet 366, which would have put him ahead of (Sir Garfield) Sobers? Which one did he covet more?

 SS– It was very much the 366. He really wanted that record for himself. When he had just made his Test debut, in 1976, there was a magazine which no longer publishes now, called “Cricketer Pakistan”, which was in those days our way of following the game. They used to have a set format of interview called the “Intimate Interview”. In that, there were set questions. One of the questions in that was, “What is your dream?” When Miandad had been interviewed after he was done with the [debut] series, he said “My dream is to become the best batsman the world has ever seen.” So, he said this after having played a couple of matches. He is full of ambition and life. He is full of self confidence and he believed that he would do it. He always wanted to be the king of all batting records. He had the same burning desire as many batsmen do.

The most developed expression of this ambition is what we have seen in Brian Lara. He sets the record once. He gets overtaken and he is so incensed that he sets his mind to reclaiming the record once more. Miandad did not have Lara’s ability. But, that is the kind of intensity with which the same ambition burned in him.

SJOne last question and we will wrap it up. Coming back to the piece, ‘Miandad and I’, what was it that you were trying to capture about Miandad and yourself in that piece?

SS– My brief from the editor, Osman Samiuddin, was that they wanted a piece on Miandad but they didn’t want another rehashing of the great things he has done. They wanted to understand what he is like a person and how he used to interact with. Osman suggested that I could do something like, because I had come to know him and I meet him so often. What I was trying to convey in the piece is to give everybody a ring-side view of what it would be like if they happen to be friends with Miandad, what it would be like today. I hope that I have been able to convey that. It is just a privilege and a lot of fun.

SJ– It is a fantastic read.

Excellent, Saad! Thank you so much for spending this evening with me. I hope we can talk again soon!

SS– Subash, thank you so much. I’m flattered by the invitation. Thank you and all the best.

SJ– Thank you. Bye!

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Episode Transcribed by Bharathram Pattabhiraman