Book review: Sultan, the unvarnished account of the extraordinary career of Wasim Akram

Wasim Akram, in his 304-page autobiography, shares his secrets and his vulnerabilities. The book is a peek into the mysterious world of Pakistan cricket in the 1980s and ’90s.

Published : Feb 02, 2023 10:00 IST

Wasim Akram took more than 900 international wickets in a career spanning 18 years.
Wasim Akram took more than 900 international wickets in a career spanning 18 years. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Wasim Akram took more than 900 international wickets in a career spanning 18 years. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Akram’s commanding presence with the ball established Pakistan as one of the most feared teams in the world in the 1980s and ’90s.  Sultan is a peek into that era, a rare insight into the sometimes fickle and fragmented world of Pakistan cricket.

The 304-page book is revelatory. Akram, unarguably one of the most celebrated cricketers of his time, admits to being addicted to cocaine after retiring from international cricket. “I liked to indulge myself; I liked to party. The culture of fame in south Asia is all-consuming, seductive, and corrupting. You can go to 10 parties at night. It took its toll on me. I developed an addiction to cocaine.”

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The vulnerabilities of a bowler with more than 900 international wickets are laid bare with a mix of frankness and brutal honesty, a line expertly toed by wordsmith Gideon Haigh. Akram has also been poignant in bequeathing us with parts of his personal life, for example, when he writes about the grief of losing his first wife Huma to illness and then finding love again with Shaniera Thompson.

Influence of Imran Khan

Akram, a key part of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup-winning team, also discusses in detail the impact all-rounder Imran Khan had on his career. “I was his project,” Akram writes. “He got me to accentuate my pivot as I hit the crease so that my shoulder really snapped. He refined my run-up; he worked on my variations; he taught me to bowl at the death in one-day internationals.

“(With regards to reverse swing) polishing was still important, Imran explained, but the key was keeping the unpolished side as dry and rough as possible.

“Imran told me how to prepare a ball, how to cant my wrist, how to disguise my hand, and how to optimally deliver it – fast and full.”

Some of these priceless nuggets offer a glimpse of the genesis of a feisty competitor whose immaculate control over seam and swing prompted batting great Sachin Tendulkar to say: “Wasim was a master. He made the ball talk.” The quote finds a place on the cover of the book.

Akram straddles through various other facets of the game – the India-Pakistan rivalry and the scourge of match-fixing allegations that blighted the sport.

He also fondly recalls the drama and tension surrounding Pakistan’s 12-run win in the first Test over India in the 1998-99 series at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. The fans famously rose to their feet and clapped as the visiting team took a victory lap around the ground.

All in all, Sultan provides the reader with a riveting deep dive into one of the most extraordinary careers that the gentleman’s game has ever seen.

From the tome
“Had Australia or England prospered from a new skill, the cricket world would have stood and applauded. We were seen as sneaky, tricky, deceptive. (The English) showed no curiosity about the skill involved. They didn’t observe, for instance, how we only ever had one man polish the ball, how we took care to hold the ball in our fingers but never in our palm.”
- Wasim Akram on early criticism for reverse swing
Sultan; Wasim Akram with Gideon Haigh, Harper Collins, ₹699.
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