Dennis Freedman is an Australian cricket journalist. He hosts the ‘Can’t bowl Can’t throw’ cricket podcast and he previously used to host a Melbourne-based radio show. He came into the limelight after agreeing to tour Pakistan for a cricket documentary. The story behind it is hardly believable, yet a funny one.
Dennis was drunk in a pub in Sydeny, Australia. Pakistan were playing England in the Champions Trophy semi-final and Dennis tweeted that if Pakistan won the tournament, he’ll go to Pakistan and make a documentary. As luck would have it, Pakistan went on to win the tournament, beating India in the final and Dennis decided to honour his commitment. He started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his tour and was lucky to find Pakistan Cables and Cricingif as his sponsors.
His documentary, ‘Dennis Does Pakistan‘ released last week and it has been a resounding success. We caught up with Dennis and he was gracious enough to answer our questions.
Q. Dennis, you’ve time and again talked about this special link between Cricket and Pakistan. What inspired you to explore this link?
A. There are a lot of reasons behind that. I was really fascinated by Pakistani cricket which is very unique. And then the fact that Pakistan hasn’t been able to host a big series since 2009 because of the attack on the Sri Lankan team bus. But despite playing their home matches in the Emirates which I call a neutral venue, Pakistan still got to Number. 1 in the Test rankings, they’re still the top ranked team in T20 rankings and then they won the 2017 Champions Trophy too. So I was really fascinated and I just wanted to explore and understand the background behind all this.
Q. Fawad Ahmed is the first person to be seen in the documentary. Seeing your twitter exchanges, you two seem to have a nice relationship. How much of an influence did Fawad have on you to convince you to tour Pakistan?
A. Yeah this starts with me writing a few articles in Dawn about Pakistan cricket. I did a tribute on Misbah, I did a tribute on Younis and I wrote something about Waqar too. Fawad picked up on those articles and started following me. Then I used to host a radio show in Melbourne and Fawad once came on as a guest. We really got to bond and know each other. Obviously he’s a Pakistani born Australian and he was able to give me insights on what I could expect in Pakistan and gave me a lot of confidence that I’ll be fine. Not that I needed it, I never felt intimidated on the prospect of going to Pakistan but it was nice to have Fawad being able to look you in the eye and tell you that everything will be fine.
Q. Let’s fast forward to Pakistan. Karachi is a city which they say never sleeps. What is one odd thing about Karachi that left you awe-struck?
A. Well Karachi didn’t really leave me awe-struck. It was the first place I landed when I got to Pakistan and it was the only place where I noticed the security situation was a bit iffy. It was once the 6th most dangerous city in the world but the Rangers have done a wonderful job bringing peace back to Karachi.
I would’ve loved to have driven to Gwadar along the coast. That does look an amazing part of the world. Hopefully I’ll be able to get there some other time.
Q. Except the Karachi-Bahawalpur flight, all of your travels were on roads. Any specific reason for that?
A. Well I didn’t plan the itinerary, Cricingif did. But I’m glad we did it by road because we got to stop and see the small towns and countryside and that’s as much a part of Pakistan as the cities are.
Q. Coming to Lahore which is not only the Cricket capital of Pakistan but it is also the cultural and historic capital. How different did Lahore feel from other cities?
A. I found Lahore the most comfortable city to be in. It felt like Melbourne where I’m from. Very modern, very clean. All the Western things are there but it has a very traditional touch too. It’s vibrant and has a very nice vibe about it. I found it easy to get around and I had no problems walking in the streets. I liked the nightlife, sitting outside, drinking lime and having barbecue chicken. I really enjoyed that, I enjoyed the weather and it was just a very happy place to be.
Q. Best scoop for you? Misbah or Imran?
A. Oh obviously Imran Khan was the biggest scoop. We didn’t know we’d be able to get to him even 48 hours before we interviewed him. The night before, we still weren’t 100% sure if it’d happen but in the morning, we drove up to Bani Gala and it worked out fine in the end. Meeting Imran Khan was really a great experience.
Q. And who would be the most intimidating person you interviewed on this tour? Has to be Imran, no?
A. No, that’d be Misbah. Part of it is because I hero-worshipped Misbah for what he’s done for Pakistan cricket, it’s absolutely amazing. He’s an imposing character, must be around 6’2 and he’s got very steely eyes. And when you interview him, he gives nothing away. There’s no smile, no facial expressions, he just talks very direct and looks straight through you with those big, piercing eyes. I must’ve interviewed more than 100 people including Imran Khan, Adam Gilchrist, Lalit Modi, Henry Blofeld but I found Misbah the most difficult one to connect with.
When I compare him with Imran, Imran was very happy to engage, obviously he’s a politician so he likes to talk to people. Misbah likes to keep to himself but I’m glad I still got to interview him.
Q. Pakistan may not be as successful a cricket nation as Australia but cricket brings Pakistanis together like nothing else. How would you compare the cricket cultures between the 2 countries?
A. The cricketing cultures between the two counties have some similarities. Both countries are at their best when their backs are against the wall. And they’ve produced some amazing heroes over time. You have Hanif Mohammad, we have Don Bradman. You have Fazal Mohammad, we have Dennis Lillee. You have Shoaib Akhtar, we have Brett Lee.
The difference is that cricket isn’t as massive a passion in Australia as it is in Pakistan. Football and Rugby tend to dominate the culture here. Cricket might be our national sport but it still isn’t followed with the same passion as it is in Pakistan and it is a big, big difference.
Q. Your views on fixing are very well-known. Do you think Amir really deserved a second chance? What are your views on him being shown leniency because of his age factor?
A. I’ve got very firm views on fixing. I feel that cricket owes you nothing and you owe cricket everything. If you choose to disgrace the game and take money for losing deliberately, there is no coming back. You can serve a ban but you should never be picked to play for your country. You’ve had your chance and there are so many people who respect the game and have never taken money. And I believe that globally, be it a Pakistani or anyone else.
Amir’s question is a tricky one. Yes, he was young when he committed the crime but he was still a grown man, he knew right from wrong and he still chose to do it. Yes he has brilliant talent but there are a million people in Pakistan with wonderful talent and we see it all the time. You remove Amir and Hassan Ali steps up. You remove Hassan Ali and Shinwari steps up. You remove Shinwari and Shaheen Shah steps up. There are guys all over the place who aren’t taking money to cheat their country or lose deliberately.
So I think if you ever take money to cheat your country and I don’t care how long ago it was, you shouldn’t have an official role with the cricket board, you shouldn’t be playing cricket, you shouldn’t be a coach, you shouldn’t be a selector, you shouldn’t be remotely associated with anything close to cricket. You should just go off and spend your money some other way.
Q. 4 teams you think that’d make the semi-finals of this World Cup?
A. I think India, England and South Africa will definitely make it. New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan will fight it out for the 4th spot.
Q. Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win led you to come to Pakistan. Suppose Pakistan win the World Cup, do you commit to coming back to Pakistan and making another documentary?
A. Yeah I’ll commit this now that if Pakistan win the World Cup, I’ll definitely come to Pakistan and make another documentary. I’d love to go to Gilgit, up in the North. I really want to go to the Chinese border. I want to go to Quetta, now that they’ve won the PSL. I want to go to Peshawar, I want to go to Abbotabad, Gwadar. There are so many places I really want to see.
Irrespective of whether Pakistan win the World Cup or not, I’d like to come to Pakistan and make Dennis Does Pakistan part 2 some time in the future.
Q. A message for your Pakistani fans?
A. A massive Thank You to everybody that has supported me to make Dennis Does Pakistan. Whether that comes down to people who’ve donated to my GoFundMe campaign, people who messaged me to offer a couch to sleep on, people who just said prayers for me and to all the people who made me feel comfortable and welcome when I came to Pakistan.
The feedback since the documentary released has been absolutely phenomenal. It’s blown me away and really humbled me. Thank you so much for allowing me to send a message for Pakistan that you are a welcoming country and a safe place to be and you deserve cricket back. So thank you all once again.
We’d like to wish Dennis all the very best of luck for his future endeavors and we can’t wait to see him back in Pakistan for another documentary!