March issue 2009

By | Sports | Published 15 years ago

Who says it has to be love at first sight to be an abiding love? That is not how my affair with cricket started. Cricket had been there somewhere on the horizon, but was not on my radar screen.

In my case, Pakistan Television played the role of Cupid. By beaming it right into my room, and my life, from then on, I was well and truly hooked to cricket — to put it mildly.

Not having anyone to explain to me the intricacies of the game, I bought coaching books and ‘taught’ myself the placement of silly sounding positions like silly mid-on, gully and long-on etc.
This was way back at the start of the ’70s, when Pakistanis were undergoing the throes of political upheaval (which never seems to end), and any achievement was a source of pride and identity, especially in the wake of the East Pakistan debacle.

Hence, Zaheer Abbas’s poetic 274 at Edgbaston, Wasim Bari’s acrobatics behind the stumps and Sadiq Mohammed’s grit and defiance at Leeds, stand out as cameos in memory. That was the time that my total focus was the Pakistan cricket team — my mood swings coincided with its highs and lows.

By the time I reached university, I was well and truly a cricket addict, who lived and breathed cricket, and this led to my becoming a cricket journalist and entering the hitherto all-male domain, on the dint of being in the right place at the right time.

Because of my participation in animated discussions about the goings-on on the cricket field, a friend working as a sports reporter for a daily newspaper asked me to pen my thoughts on cricket.

Thus, my learning as a geographer took a backseat and I trod the exciting path of cricket journalism, which became not just my bread and butter, but a source of immense joy and fulfilment. By then, I was writing simultaneously for an English and an Urdu newspaper.

By the late ’80s, my interest had graduated beyond the fortunes of the home team and I could enjoy a good game of cricket, even if the Pakistan team was on the wrong side of the result. This, of course, meant that I was able to diversify my writing to other aspects of the game, like its systems, administration or lack thereof etc.

This is when I became the editor of the first magazine dedicated to the game, The Cricketer, and was also asked to be on the editorial board of the official publication of the Pakistan Cricket Board, which was brought out by its title sponsor.

My initial public forays elicited comments of disbelief that a woman could write on cricket, and I really do not want to remember the number of people who asked if my father helped me write my articles, though now, in hindsight, I can even laugh at the letters I used to receive as the editor of the The Cricketer, addressed to a Mr Afia Salam!

However, the number of people who not only encouraged me, but helped me along is also countless, among them my journalist colleagues, players, umpires and officials, interaction with whom was a cricketing education in itself.

It was because of the confidence they gave me that I was able to put my name to many quality publications. The highpoint, of course, being the chance to collaborate on the autobiography of Little Master Hanif Mohammed, which was like writing the history of Pakistan cricket. This also led to my involvement in the editing of Mushtaq Mohammed’s autobiography, who really knows how to spin a yarn.

When I was approached for both these projects by the icons of Pakistan cricket, I felt I had finally arrived as a cricket writer!

—Afia Salam

A freelance journalist, with an experience of print, electronic and web media. She writes, and trains media on climate change, gender and labour issues, as well as media ethics.