Akram bats for resuming cricket, people-to-people ties between India, Pakistan

Politics should be kept out of sports and people-to-people contact is very important, Mr. Akram said in a Lit for Life session on his memoir, also discussing his personal battles against substance abuse

Updated - February 26, 2023 02:12 am IST

Published - February 25, 2023 08:13 pm IST - CHENNAI

Sultan of Swing Wasim Akram, Gideon Haigh in conversation with N. Ram, (right) Director, The Hindu Publishing Group at The Hindu Lit For Life Literature Festival at T.T. Krishnamachari Auditorium, Music Academy in Chennai on February 25, 2023

Sultan of Swing Wasim Akram, Gideon Haigh in conversation with N. Ram, (right) Director, The Hindu Publishing Group at The Hindu Lit For Life Literature Festival at T.T. Krishnamachari Auditorium, Music Academy in Chennai on February 25, 2023 | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram called for the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan and more people-to-people contact between the two countries on Saturday.

Mr. Akram, regarded as the world’s greatest left-arm pacer, was speaking at The Hindu Lit for Life event, discussing his memoir Sultan along with his co-author and journalist Gideon Haigh in a session moderated by The Hindu Group director N. Ram.

“If you take India and Pakistan together, there are 1.5 billion people, and everyone gets involved. It is a different kind of pressure. That is the beauty of Indo-Pak sports, and I hope it carries on. At some stage, politics should be kept away from sports, and people-to-people contact is very important,” said Mr. Akram, who joined the event virtually.

Looking back

In the book, he discusses contentious topics such as ball tampering, match-fixing allegations and substance abuse. “It was tough to speak about my battles, but I did it to show I could get out of it [drug habit]. If my book motivates even one person to get out of it, my job is done,” Mr. Akram said.

The 56-year-old also spoke fondly about the famous 1999 Chennai Test in which Pakistan defeated India by 12 runs. “I told Saqlain Mushtaq to bowl the ‘doosra’ and give the ball a bit more air outside off-stump so that he would try to hit over mid-wicket. That is what happened, and Sachin [Tendulkar] top-edged. I was saying to myself, ‘balance, eyes on the ball’, as 40,000 people were screaming. In the end, I took the catch. Winning in India was a massive deal, but what struck us was the standing ovation we got,” he reminisced.

To a question from Mr. Ram on the literary challenges of writing the book, Mr. Haigh said: “A lot of this book is about the events of a young man. Sometimes, you forget how young he was when he started playing for Pakistan. In some sense, you must try to convey to your audience how disorienting this whole thing must have been for a young man from Lahore to become the centre of public attention.”

Sports journalism’s evolution

Later in the evening, in a session on ‘Sports Writing in a Digital Age’ moderated by The Hindu’s Sports Editor K.C. Vijaya Kumar, Mr. Haigh and fellow Australian journalist Peter Lalor spoke about the evolution of sports reportage.

“The digital age has freed journalism to do things we couldn’t possibly do before. The amount of time you spent on research and looking for records in the libraries; you can get that information in seconds now. That is time you get back to write better,” Mr. Lalor said.

On the flip side, “the fact that you are constantly on call and in touch has made sports writing more difficult to detach and reflect,” Mr. Haigh noted.

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