Book Review: The Fix, Omar Shahid Hamid

Explore the world of cricket and match-fixing in this interesting read...

The Fix, Omar Shahid Hamid

Unlike the rest of the world, the opium of the masses in the Indian sub-continental spread is a quasi-religion called cricket. Blind faith is never a good thing. And while most stories around cricket are heart-warming to its acolytes, there is a terrible monster it hides that rears its ugly head often. Like all billion-dollar global sports, cricket has been marred by the imputation of match-fixing.

Firstly, there is an almost parallel economy-sized gambling industry that feeds off the craziest fans. It is so meticulous that you may bet on every possible aspect of the game: who will win the toss, which bowler will get the final wicket, how exactly a specific batsman will go out, even on the outcomes per over of the match. This is a scenario ripe for picking, for match-fixing.

My biggest issue with The Fix by Omar Shahid Hamid is that for fairly obvious reasons, he chose to write about fixing in women’s cricket instead. Now women’s cricket is so nascent and neglected in these parts that fixing around it, even in a fictional format, simply does not carry the power of international matches in the men’s circuit — in Test, One Day or the T20 versions.

Sometimes just a sip from a cup of tea gives us a taste of the brewer’s depth of expertise and experience. Each page of this book stands testimony to the real-life situations and observations the author has faced and surmounted. This book is steeped in intricate knowledge of the subject matter, cricket and its off-field machinations, that no one who hasn’t lived it could ever know. This is a book by an expert. It is the real deal.

Thorough knowledge of the subject matter and the fictional, though all too familiar, plot aside, the easy facility by which the author weaves it all together is fascinating. The book is an easy effortless read. And that is the true mark of a master at his craft.

Sanam Khan is the captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team. Bold, impetuous and painfully ethical, her journey in the world of sport alters her personality, her beliefs, and her life forever. And as she fights her way through the cut-throat business of sports, she finds everything alters and not for the good. She makes the common mistake of loving too well, though not wisely. Her instinct for the game is impeccable, as is her integrity as a captain.

Yes, as the romantic interest Faisal Qureshi points out: “For God’s sake, Sanam, this is Pakistan. Here, prime ministers are assassinated, and no one is ever caught for the crime. You think the authorities would have done anything for a nobody like me? People like us, the only thing we can do is survive in this system and hope that we do it with our reputations intact. I wasn’t even able to do that.”

Many cricketers, both male and female, leave their traces behind on these pages. For some, the game is the only way out of poverty and terrible futures. Some don’t quite love the game, but their prolific talents make them great anyway. This realistic portrayal also talks about the ones who did not make it — due to injury, politics or plain vicious rivalry. The spiral downwards leads to drink and drugs if not transit through the hands of the dreaded fixers such as Saleem Euro.

Since Sanam is a fast bowler and too fanatic to let a thing like strain get in the way of her performance, she stresses out her spine. Her battles with excruciating pain detail a hidden aspect of sports. Repetitive stress injuries and how the body revolts against a sportsperson’s instincts become a recurring theme in Sanam’s journey right until the end.

In the character of Fatima Shah, we have another sub-continental phenomenon — the hungrier, more acute class of those bordering poverty who must get ahead at any cost and know the rules and penalties of the game of living with such acumen that they skip in and out of the notions of right and wrong with impunity. Little wonder that she manages what she does, effectively spinning the system on its head to get what she wants out of it.

Essentially, the depressing truth the book leaves out there is that the fixing lobby is so powerful it is impossible to battle. They may be played along with to an extent and then outsmarted. And in this game, everything may be used as a pawn.

For everyone interested in the game, this is a fascinating read. Even for those not too into cricket, this is a powerful story that tells us much about Pakistan, its women, and their untold journeys. As a book, this is among the best fiction there is on the sport.

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