Meeting Mr Miandad

How the Pakistani great’s biographer came to write his life story

Saad Shafqat

Former Pakistan captain Javed Miandad at a press conference after stepping down as director-general of the PCB, Lahore, January 28, 2008

Get him in front of a TV when a Pakistan match is on

Like all Javed Miandad fans, I had waited patiently to read the story of his life. I assumed it would appear soon after he retired. Yet years passed and nothing emerged.

Pakistan’s cricket stars are not known for their written output, but there was a feeling that perhaps Miandad would be different. He had never been at a loss for words at the crease, and rumour had it that he was much the same in private.

Early in 1999, three years after he played his last international match, Miandad was back in the spotlight as Pakistan’s coach on a landmark tour to India. Around this time, I was preparing to relocate to Pakistan, after having lived for a decade in the United States. Tired of waiting for Miandad’s book to come out, I wondered if I might be able to do the job myself. Although I was a doctor and not a writer, I enjoyed writing, and loved cricket. How hard could it be?

Soon after settling back in Karachi, I began looking for a way to contact him. Thanks to a resourceful friend, a telephone number was obtained. One afternoon, after spending several minutes building up courage, I dialled it nervously. Before long, Miandad’s unmistakable high-pitched brogue came on the line.

“Is this Javed Miandad?” I asked tentatively. “The Javed Miandad?”

“Who the hell are you?” was the reply.

My mouth, dry to begin with, suddenly felt parched. I tried to refer to some notes I had made, to stay focused, but Miandad was sharp and short and the conversation did not go well. He asked which publication I worked for, and I said I didn’t. He asked about what I had written before; I had to say, “Not much.” He was quick and dismissive. “Don’t bother me,” were his last words.

I was shattered. I had just spoken to my boyhood idol and he had treated me with indifference. I tried to see the situation from his viewpoint, realising that a call from someone like me would have felt a nuisance. But that was little consolation.

My wife analysed the matter dispassionately. “You need a better angle,” was her bottom line. Her suggestion was to write an essay on Miandad and use it to lure his interest. “And don’t call him again,” she advised. “Go through his wife.”

At the time, Miandad lived in Lahore. He has married into one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families, and had a centrally located address that was commonly known. Armed with the opening chapter of what I hoped would become a biography, I flew in from Karachi. A friend drove me to Miandad’s house, where I stood in the pleasant Lahore spring and rang the bell. It was March 2001. Miandad at the time was the national coach, on duty in New Zealand.

A servant appeared at the gate. I introduced myself and handed him a sheaf of pages stapled together. After several anxious minutes, the servant appeared again, and this time the news good. Mrs Miandad would see me. We had never met before, but she was most kind and welcoming. They had been trying to arrange Miandad’s autobiography, she said, but the legend himself had been rather disorganised about it. “So, what’s next?” I asked. “Leave it to me,” she said.

Tahira Miandad proved true to her word, and a few weeks later I received the call I had been hoping for. Miandad was in Karachi and was barking directions to his mother’s house. He said he had quit as the Pakistan coach and had some time on his hands. I dropped everything, bought a big cake along the way and arrived at his doorstep in quick time. My first words on seeing him were to praise his 114 in Georgetown, which I had wanted to do for years. Miandad completely ignored it. “Have you brought a tape recorder?” he asked. The abrasiveness was gone, but he wasn’t too friendly either. His tone was all business.

We sat in a sparsely furnished room on the upper floor of a four-storey house, located on a street that has been named in his honour. I flipped on the dictaphone, and Miandad started to speak. He talked about his childhood and his early influences. He kept going off on tangents, but I quickly realised there was little point interrupting him. He talked non-stop and simply talked over you if you tried to speak up. Everything he said was interesting.

Over the next six months, I met him every week, sometimes twice a week. His manner soon became comfortable and chummy. He was witty and passionate, and frequently sarcastic, with a highly colourful tongue. Going over old memories, he found it easy to get into the moment and relive his emotions.

 

Miandad was sharp and short and the conversation did not go well. He asked which publication I worked for, and I said I didn’t. He asked about what I had written before; I had to say, “Not much.” He was quick and dismissive. “Don’t bother me”

I had heard horror stories about his difficult personality but experienced nothing of the sort. Eventually the book emerged. Miandad did not prove too fussy about the finishing touches. He said he couldn’t be bothered to read the manuscript, and asked me to show it instead to his sister-in-law, who gave final approval after a few minor tweaks.

In June 2003, the publishers held a book launch in Karachi. Five people were seated on stage: Miandad, myself, the CEO of the publishing company, Tauqir Zia (chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board), and Raju Jamil, a TV personality and fellow cricket devotee, who had initially referred me to Miandad, and was emcee for the occasion.

A few minutes into proceedings, Hanif Mohammad walked into the hall and quietly took a seat among the audience. Not many people seemed to notice but Miandad spotted him right away and immediately became restless. He stepped down, took Hanif by the hand, and brought him on stage. Everyone was moved by the gesture and both men received a standing ovation. Basking in spontaneous, thunderous applause, Hanif stood beaming. Miandad beamed even more.

That was just one of many delightful memories of working on Miandad’s autobiography. Perhaps most entertaining was being in his company when watching live cricket on television. He was highly opinionated, with choice words for nearly every Pakistan player. The only one he showed respect for was Inzamam; everybody else was cut down to size, often with a variety of Urdu expletives.

It was also great fun to be with him in public. People would greet him and wave at him all the time. He always waved back and returned every greeting. At traffic stops, flower vendors would offer him garlands. He feigned reluctance but eventually accepted.

Throughout the project, I quietly wondered how it would feel to play cricket with Javed Miandad. One lazy November afternoon, a few months after the book came out, I was visiting him on Eid, and the ambience was highly convivial. Seeing Miandad in such a relaxed mood, I summoned the courage to ask if I could bowl to him. At first he acted as if he hadn’t heard, but when I repeated the request, he eyed me up and down.

“Played any first-class?’ he said.

“No,” I replied.

“One of the registered clubs?”

“No.”

“School team?”

“Tried, but didn’t make it.”

“Listen,” he said finally. “It’s best to stick to what you’re good at. That’s what I’ve always done, and you should do the same.”

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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