Lahore to LondonMartin Chandler |
Author: Ahmed, Younis
Publisher: Chequered Flag
Rating: 4 stars
I was just nine years of age when the John Player’s County League began in 1969. For a cricket mad youngster for whom Test cricket could be just a little slow, a format that filled a Sunday afternoon on the still new BBC2 was just about the best thing that had ever happened in my short life. Two innings of two hours each and a twenty minute tea interval consisting of nothing but cricket talk was the highlight of my week. Best of all were the occasions when my beloved Lancashire were playing. I vividly remember the slight tinge of disappointment I felt on Wednesdays when the Radio Times was delivered to my house and Sunday’s combatants first known and the Red Rose weren’t involved. With seventeen counties they generally weren’t of course, and it irritated me that the southern counties seemed to do rather better, but if Surrey and Younis Ahmed were playing I didn’t mind quite so much.
In those days forty over cricket was as revolutionary as T20 was almost forty years later, and it was pretty much as unpopular with those of older generations who railed against the break with the traditional and familiar. On the field players used to the three day game generally struggled to adapt, even the younger men, and looking back it was a less than enterprising game. But it was the best we had, and it enabled cricket fans of all ages to watch county players on the television as well as international stars, and one I always looked forward to seeing was Younis. There were no switch hits, dilscoops, ramps or other T20 innovations, but with Younis there was that rare combination of style and power that is captured so well on the dust jacket of Lahore to London. Younis is one of the very few from that era who I can imagine fitting in with 21st century cricket.
Younis is 68 now, and his book appears in time for a tour of England by Pakistan. Younis never got to play for his country in his adopted home, and his international career should have resulted in many more Test appearances than four, two when he was 22 and then two more at the end of his career, when he was 39.
In common with most cricketing autobiographies From Lahore to London comprises a couple of chapters detailing Younis’ childhood and background. It then moves on to a season by season account of his cricket career before explaining what he has done since leaving the game. Finally there a few thoughts on the great players he has played with and against, before he concludes with his thoughts on some of the issues facing the sport today.
The story of Younis’ early years is illuminating, none more so than his succinct explanation of how Pakistani names work. If that were more widely understood then what would appear to be a general misconception amongst the game’s historians that Younis and the highly accomplished Test batsman Saeed Ahmed were half brothers rather than full brothers might have been avoided. Even more welcome was learning so much of what Younis did after cricket, an area of life that many cricketing autobiographies, and indeed biographies, devote far too little space to.
The attempt made by Younis to summarise the qualities of the great players he has seen is done very well and provides the reader with food for thought rather than the collection of platitudes that generally characterises such reflections. Younis also expresses his views on the controversial issues that the country of his birth has been linked to over the years; match fixing, spot betting and ball tampering. It may be that I enjoyed those closing chapters more because I agreed entirely with the sentiments expressed, but no one could argue otherwise than that Younis sets out his case very persuasively.
Unlike some who have produced autobiographies Younis had a most eventful on field career. Never far from controversy his life was, in some ways, a microcosm of the game in the second half of the twentieth century. The chapters on his South African experience are particularly important and earned him what at the time was a lifetime ban from Test selection for Pakistan. His rationale for travelling to the Cape as an honorary white with Derrick Robins’ touring sides in the early 1970s does not stand up too well to 21st century scrutiny, but is an important part of the book. A number of the participants in that tour have written books, but for them the tours meant little. For Younis however the trips and the decisions to go on them shaped his life and the opinions he formed at the time therefore deserve respect, even if his reader does not agree with them.
In England Younis played for three counties, his association with two of them, Surrey and Worcestershire, ending acrimoniously. The Surrey story does not reflect well on the county, and the Worcestershire story is bordering on the ridiculous. If the position is as Younis relates it then his dismissal for supposedly betting against his own side in a Sunday League match was a conspiracy of the most cynical kind. There were a few bland statements made by the club at the time, so we only have one side of the story, but I am happy to accept the version Younis tells, if only because if he was going to make it up it surely wouldn’t be quite so bizarre.
Lahore to London also taught me an important lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my cricket book reading days, that being that in autobiographies people do not always tell the whole truth. In his book Cutting Edge Javed Miandad provides an explanation for the end of Younis’ international career that does Younis little credit, the allegation in essence being that having complained about being injured Younis then went out to a nightclub incurring the wrath of skipper Imran Khan. Javed and Younis played together at Glamorgan, and Javed’s recommendation was a major reason why Younis had been recalled in 1986/87 after seventeen years. The Javed explanation is supported by one of Imran’s biographers (Christopher Sandford).
I have myself written about Younis in the past, and in view of what I assumed was a mutual admiration pact between Javed and Younis, backed up by Sandford, treated the account as gospel. Revisiting that issue as a result of reading Younis’ account (he dismisses the allegation as being wholly wrong) I discovered that another of Imran’s biographers, Ivo Tennant, makes no mention of such an episode, and nor does Imran himself in his post-retirement autobiography. Who is right? I don’t know of course, although I have to concede Younis’ take on the subject does have the ring of truth to it.
There is a concession from Younis that he and Imran didn’t always see eye to eye, but one story that is missing from the book is that regarding Younis choosing to accuse his former captain of taking cannabis after that 86/87 series. That one does appear in the Tennant biography, and according to him was contained within a newspaper article. But Sandford doesn’t mention it, nor Imran, so I suppose it may not be true, but what is certain is that the story is out there. There is at least one more Younis story that made the news pages of The Cricketer that isn’t mentioned, so Lahore to London is not completely comprehensive.
Younis’ publisher, Chequered Flag Publishing, have been around for a while now. As the name suggests much of their previous output has been on the subject of motor sport, but they have an increasingly broad sporting output. Younis’ book is a first for them in one sense, that being that it is a hard back. The splendid photograph on the dust jacket is a good start, and they are to be congratulated on producing an excellent index and statistical appendix. If I had a dose of reviewer’s pedantry I would express some disappointment that the well chosen illustrations are not reproduced on art paper, and that the proof reader missed the typo in Jack Simmons surname, and somehow let 1970s Northants skipper Jim Watts acquire Patrick as his Christian name, but you know a book is a good one when that is the worst you can produce by way of complaint. Lahore to London is an excellent read, and one which I unhesitatingly recommend.