by ACS Literary Scholar Sam Coulson
From the little kid adored by his grandmother to the international superstar honoured by billions. Sultan is a story about the life of legendary cricket champion, Wasim Akram.
The Australian Cricket Society had the privilege of being joined by two experts of their respective fields, Wasim Akram, 916 international wickets and Gideon Haigh, author of countless books.
Haigh joined us at The Kelvin Club for entrée, whilst Akram was running a little late haven flown in from Sydney that morning, the life of an international superstar holds little rest.
Just after entrée, Akram joined us, looking as cool as ever with his slick black hair and black sunglasses. He appeared a humble and humorous gentleman, sitting down with Haigh to speak about the release of their book and the journey it took them on.
Dependent on the time of the year, you can find Wasim living in the UK, back home in Pakistan or even here in Melbourne, which is where his wife, Shaniera is from.
But it was not always the roar of Bay 13, or the swinging ball under lights at Gaddafi Stadium for Wasim, his story is quite a unique one.
As a young kid, he thoroughly enjoyed many sports, table tennis and hockey included, “you can’t play hockey as a left hander, what sort of sport is that?” he chuckled.
But it was the “electric taped ball” that a young kid from Lahore would grow to love.
After becoming quite good at the tape ball earning 10 rupees a game, he played for various cricket clubs in Pakistan, until he was invited to bowl to the Pakistani international players in the nets.
“I was just standing around, it was a four-day summer camp, and they weren’t giving me a bowl, I was very upset.”
Akram’s coaches and captain sternly told the camp organisers there is no point Wasim being here as he is not getting a bowl.
“No worries we will give him the ball tomorrow,” the camp coordinator said.
Sure, enough Wasim was there, 16 and fresh out of school and eager to have a bowl…
It was not until the last half an hour of the day he was thrown the ball, and as Wasim describes “for some odd reason with that half an hour, I impressed him.”
The camp coordinator started to realize there may have been something about this kid and decided to give him the fresh new ball in the morning.
As fortune would have it, Pakistan had a test series coming up against New Zealand and the internationals wanted some practice before they flew over, meaning Wasim got to apply his trade to the best in the country.
He got out quite a few international players and as Akram describes it, “lucky for me the great Pakistani captain at the time Javed Miandad was there and he wanted a net.”
The camp was held at Gaddafi stadium, cordoned off from the international players, Wasim was selected as one of the bowlers to bowl to Miandad and he was impressed by the 16-year-old.
“I was pinching myself, I had posters of Javed Miandad in my room and here he was impressed by my bowling.”
So impressed in fact, Wasim was picked to play a first-class match against New Zealand as they were touring and he mentions to the society, he barely even knew the names of the opposition but for him he described it as, “very alien.”
Despite that. Wasim took nine wickets and was picked up for the New Zealand tour in January in which he took ten wickets in only his second match, picking up player of the match.
He then flew to Australia to participate in a mini world cup, in which he met his idol, the legendary Imran Khan, he reflected on how in awe of Khan he was.
“He knew my name; I could not believe it and he said, ‘you bowled very well in the test match,’ I was just shocked,” he said.
He played his first game against Australia, knocking over the top five batsmen, his most memorable was Kim Hughes, already taken four wickets he asked Imran, what should I do?
“Bowl him a short ball,” Khan said.
Wasim was surprised and exclaimed “but that could be a no ball?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Khan said.
Wasim then proceeds to dig it in short, Hughes got a top edge and Tahir Naqqash got under it and held the catch, claiming his fifth wicket on ODI debut.
From that point forward, Khan took Akram under his wing on and off the field, teaching him the values of arduous work.
Akram is a family-oriented person, loves spending time with kids Aiyla, Akbar and Taimur, Wasim’s first wife Huma unfortunately passed away after heart and kidney complications.
He found it hard to deal with, but at the time had two kids (Akbar and Taimur) to look after which as he says was tough but has helped him immensely.
Wasim is now married to an Australian lady, Shaniera Akram in which they have one child together, Aiyla Akram.
He also spoke fondly of his grandparents and in particular his grandmother.
“She was always very proud of me, saying she does not know how I will go out there (playing international cricket) cause you’re so innocent.”
As innocent and cool as Wasim Akram may be, he shares his story in his new book about the controversies that surrounded him.
“My favourite part of my cricket career was playing for Lancashire because there is no politics, you just play cricket.”
That was not the case when he was made captain of the Pakistani cricket team, a decision that would cause some turmoil amongst other players.
“The setup of the Pakistani Cricket Board is not well run; you effectively have one guy making all the decisions.”
Mushtaq Ahmed, who would come to regret his rebellious nature towards Wasim’s captaincy, as well as other teammates rebelled against Akram as captain as they saw him as a friend and the did not like the change.
Everyone was out at Akram’s place for a party until 4-5am in the morning and then when the newly found captain rocked up to training the following morning, players were in suits rebelling to the Pakistani cricket board that they did not want Wasim as captain.
“It was a very sad time, when I would take a wicket, I would not even high five teammates or anything.”
Wasim Akram also puts the ‘match-fixing’ rumours to bed stating in the Guardian, “Everyone was panicky and playing for themselves. It was a horrible time; no one trusted each other.”
Sultan, is available in all good bookstores and is an interesting story into Wasim’s life, it is a must read.