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Pakistan cricket decoded: a chat with noted writer Osman Samiuddin

Excerpts from noted Pakistani writer Osman Samiuddin's Q&A session on IBNLive's Facebook page related to his latest book, 'The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket'.

Pakistan cricket decoded: a chat with noted writer Osman Samiuddin

Noted Pakistani cricket writer, Osman Samiuddin, had a Q&A session on IBNLive.com Facebook page on his latest book, 'The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket'.

He took questions on Pakistani cricket's past, present, and the future.

Excerpts:

IBNLive: You have quoted from some very rare, old cricket magazines - are they still available in Pakistan?

Osman Samiuddin: The Cricketer (Pakistan) shut down in April 2008, though its Urdu version is still coming out. I knew a few people, crazy people, who had kept every single one of its copies and being a little unhinged myself, I borrowed them and photocopied almost every single copy, so I now have. It's sad but I think even the founder of the magazine does not have every single copy of it anymore. It was the greatest magazine I've ever read.

IBNLive: Osman, loved the extensive bit on the Lahore and Karachi cricket cultures. Are they still active even now?

Osman Samiuddin: In a sense they are but you know, there's just so much more to do - and be worried about - in both cities now that I think the real cricket culture, whatever it may be, is probably found in the smaller towns outside the big cities. Places like Sialkot, Sheikupura, a few towns in KPK - that is where the real action takes place.

IBNLive: Osman, the PCB seems to be eternally in the grasp of politicians and their shenanigans. In that context, how was Imran Khan successful in having an iron grip over cricketing affairs?

Osman Samiuddin: Success mostly - unparalleled success. To win Tests in England, then a series there and a series in India is about the best protection you can buy from any administrative blundering. I honestly think, for stickability and durability as captain, if nothing else, Misbah has matched Kardar and Imran. Misbah has survived whitewashes, bad tournaments, any number of PCB chiefs and he's still here.

IBNLive: Osman, surely you have done extensive research for the book. Do tell us about it a bit?

Osman Samiuddin: So I was commissioned the book in May 2007 and I probably began researching it at the end of the year. Most of the research was first-hand, done by interviewing players, ex-players, administrators, patrons, random officials. In the end, I counted and realised I had 103 interviews. Then there were books, magazines, newspapers and I discovered, contrary to popular belief, that the early years especially are pretty well-documented if you go looking for it. Like Kardar had written six books, which is a wealth of information. Autobiographies of Hanif, Waqar Hasan, and a few tour diaries were really, really helpful in terms of research. By far the biggest challenge was to actually put that research into some kind of coherent form.

Shoaib Naveed: I have heard rumours that Asif Mujtaba is your favourite cricketer of all-time...is this true?

Osman Samiuddin: It is true. Wasim Akram used to say "issey bara talent dunya main nahin (there is no bigger talent than him in the world).

Zainab Abbas: What do you think should ideally be Pak's strategy in the WC? Play 4 bowlers with an extra batsman or add Yasir Shah and strengthen the bowling?

Osman Samiuddin: I'm not really sure - I guess play Irfan, Junaid, Wahab and Yasir at some point but it depends on whether Hafeez is cleared to bowl also. That's part of the problem with Pak right now in ODIs - there is just so much uncertainty over their XI. Younis and Misbah shouldn't happen together in a line-up, not if you already have Hafeez and Shahzad. So, I'm not really sure how they will make a workable, balanced XI at any point in the tournament. (Which means, of course, they will win it).

Usama Shahid: Whatever happened to Pakistani cricket in the past, they always had a star cricketer in them. Inzamam and Shoaib Akhtar retired a few years back. Afridi is the last one, who will retire after WC. What impact will it have on our cricket, especially when there is no cricket on home grounds, and what will happen with the unpredictability tag?

Osman Samiuddin: I think there are stars in the making surely. Shahzad has the nakhrein to be one. Umar Akmal, if he can somehow get it right, is another. Junaid, I feel, has some kind of potential. The point is, for a few years yet, players will keep coming out and exceptionally gifted ones too. It doesn't matter really whether they are stars or not, as long they help Pakistan do well.

Anand Sharma: Would Imran Nazir and Yaseer Hameed go down in your list of top 5 talents gone astray in the last 20 years? If yes, who would complete the list?

Osman Samiuddin: There's enough to populate a whole country. In the time that I've covered the game, no bigger waste than Mohammad Asif. He could've been the greatest Pak fast bowler ever. Easily. Some from another time will say the same of Wasim Raja, or Saeed Ahmed, or Qasim Umar. 20 years from now we might say that of Umar Akmal as well. It really is enough of a list to make a couple of IPL franchises.

Vaquas Alvi: Where the book is available in Dubai? Do you believe in this Pakistani team to lift the cup?

Osman Samiuddin: I don't think they can win it. They still might though. Book is available online for those in the UAE currently though I am hoping it will be available here soon enough.

Arcopol Chaudhuri: What are Ijaz Ahmed, Saleem Malik, Inzamam, Aaqib Javed doing now? What keeps them occupied in their post-retirement days? What about Miandad?

Osman Samiuddin: Ijaz and Saleem - heheheeh, I'd like to say they are finding ways to stay out of jail but that would be mischievous. Malik runs an academy and wants to get back in. Ijaz, I am not sure. Inzi has a gazillion business interests and is religiously inclined. Aaqib will be at the world cup as coach of the UAE, with whom he has done a terrific job. And Miandad - ah, well. I think he mostly bugs journos by calling them up and spending hours on the phone with them.

Mohammad-Abbas Hussain: Do you think Amir should play the international game again, given that Wasim and Co. did?

Osman Samiuddin: I think, legally, he cannot be stopped. Morally too I am fine with it - he has served his punishment, done his time, so he can return. But - I am not the person who matters in this. How his team reacts to his return will be the most important thing. He betrayed them first and foremost in what he did and until a year or two ago, I remember feelings of some players in the team were not especially forgiving.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan: What was the most interesting interview you did while researching this book?

Osman Samiuddin: Nur Khan. He was the most difficult to get and he was such a giant. He barely gave any interviews. When I called him I felt like I might be asking for his daughter's hand in marriage, it was that tense. During the interview, he gave me three hours and he was great. Told me I was rubbish for not doing research. Also Abdul Dyer, who was an early patron of the game, was another really, really good one. Imran Khan, before he became Mr Reham Khan, was pretty awesome too.

Ubaid Ur Rahman: Which era you enjoyed the most while writing - 90's maybe?

Osman Samiuddin: The last era was the toughest - because it is not yet complete, so to write it as history was tough. Probably one section I really enjoyed in terms of research was the fight between Kardar and the professionals in '76-77. That was a seminal moment and The Cricketer (Pakistan) covered it so well that it was just great to research it.

Jamshaid Arshad: Who do you think will be the next captain for Pakistan in ODIs and Tests?

Osman Samiuddin: I can only guess but I suspect Azhar might be in the running for Tests. ODIs? More difficult to guess given the uncertainty of Pakistan's line-up. They talked of Shahzad at one stage - also of Sohaib Maqsood. I wouldn't mind trying out Sarfraz Ahmed by the way, though his 'keeping is a little - ahem - careless right now.

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