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Updated: September 25, 2012 11:36 IST

Free and frank on right and wrong

V. Ramnarayan
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The Memoirs of a Cricketing Fanatic
The Memoirs of a Cricketing Fanatic

Icki Iqbal easily passes the Tebbit Test, because for a Pakistani who has become a British citizen, he is indubitably an England supporter in all forms of cricket, though he is not so blind a fan as to be a follower of Geoffrey Boycott the batsman.

Conservative Member of Parliament Norman (now Lord) Tebbit notoriously told the Los Angeles Times in 1990: “A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”

Interestingly, Tebbit has written a foreword to Iqbal’s book on his love affair with cricket, The Tebbit Test: The Memoirs of a Cricketing Fanatic, and from it, it becomes obvious that the author has passed the politician’s cricket test.

Mohammed ‘Icki’ Iqbal was born in Kerala, and though the family migrated to Pakistan in March 1948, his father was more comfortable in Malayalam and English and never really mastered Urdu. Growing up cricket-crazy in Karachi, Bahawalpur and Lahore, Icki went back to Kerala to marry Kadeeja, and eventually went to England to pursue a career as an actuary.

Free of prejudice

Given this colourful background as a rare ethnic khichdi of three nations, Iqbal seems happily free of chauvinistic prejudice or dogma, both as a citizen of the world and as a cricket fanatic, though he has strong likes and dislikes, based on his belief in what is right or wrong in cricket. He is not afraid of voicing opinions or admitting to partiality to some unusual heroes, resulting sometimes in eccentric choices. For example, he picks in his world XI Rahul Dravid, not Sachin Tendulkar, Imtiaz Ahmed as his wicket keeper (Imtiaz who? I can imagine young readers asking) and Jimmy Anderson as Wasim Akram’s pace bowling partner. Of the great Indian spinners, only Bishan Singh Bedi makes it even to a long list of reserves. That Iqbal is his own man is confirmed by his choice of Shane Warne as captain and sole representative of Australia. Saeed Anwar seems a dubious choice as opener, while Majid Khan at least has the aura to claim the place as his partner. Nobody will of course question the nomination of Gary Sobers and Imran Khan to the all-rounder slots.

Icki Iqbal was a right hand batsman and left arm spin bowler in his boyhood, when battles of attrition were the norm in India-Pakistan encounters, and A.H. Kardar’s men famously defeated England in England for the first time, thanks largely to Fazal Mahmood’s brilliant seam bowling exploits. The son of an Anglophile, Iqbal realised early in his youth that he was not destined or equipped to be an international cricketer, but pursuing academic qualifications to become an actuary, left for England in his twenties. The book is both a cricket fanatic’s reminiscences and an autobiographical account of his professional life in the U.K. Arriving in England in 1964 six days before Harold Wilson came to power as prime minister, Icki played some cricket and watched a great deal of it through the decades, both at the beautiful grounds of England and on television.

That Icki Iqbal is a man of principles, loyalty and a believer in fearless self-expression is amply evident in the following lines with which he starts a letter he wrote to The Actuary, a magazine for professionals in the field: “Monday 25 February was one of the darkest days in the history of the Institute of Actuaries. A group of small-minded men voted against the election of Andrew Smith to fellowship despite the strong steer given by the president and the Council. I really don’t know whether I want to belong to the same profession as them.”

Add to a strong sense of fair play and sportsmanship, a prankster’s sense of humour, and an obvious love of the team man rather than the individualist, tinged by strong aesthetic preferences (David Gower and James Anderson, not Ian Botham or Graham Gooch, selfless Imtiaz Ahmed and elegant Majid Khan, not Hanif Mohammed the record-chaser), and you gain a fair idea of what makes Iqbal tick.

Iqbal is also obviously a man of peace and probity as we can see from his well-articulated views on India-Pakistan relations, and the need to clean up the game, which had to deal with the tragedy of Mohammad Amir (“the greatest since Sidney Barnes”). “It pains me when cricketers or the administrators claim victory when it is simply that they have not been caught.”

In summary, this self-published book is a delightful read, but could have actually produced two books — one on Iqbal’s love affair with cricket and another on his and his children’s lives as professionals in their adopted country of equal opportunities. Any hope of another literary effort by Iqbal is however to be tempered by knowledge that he is now suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

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