Wasim Akram has opened up about his struggle with cocaine addiction after his playing career came to an end, in his forthcoming autobiography Sultan: A Memoir.
Akram, Pakistan’s leading wicket-taker in both Test and ODI cricket, retired in 2003 after an 18-year international career, but continued to travel the world for commentary and coaching assignments. The cocaine addiction, he says, started after he retired, when he began to crave a “substitute for the adrenaline rush of competition,” and ended after the death of his first wife Huma in 2009.
Excerpts from his book, published alongside an interview in The Times, paint a candid picture of Akram’s slide into addiction.
“I liked to spoil myself; I loved to party,” he writes. “The culture of fame in South Asia is all-consuming, seductive and corrupting. You can go to ten parties a night, and some do. And it took its toll on me. My devices turned into vices.
“Worst of all, I became dependent on cocaine. It started innocently enough when I was offered a line at a party in England; my use became more and more serious, to the point that I felt I needed it to function.
“It made me fleeting. It made me deceiving. Huma, I know, was often lonely during this time… she talked about her desire to move to Karachi, to be closer to her parents and siblings. I hesitated. Why? Partly because I liked going to Karachi alone, pretending it was work, when it was really about partying, often for days on end.
‘Huma eventually discovered me and discovered a pack of cocaine in my wallet… ‘You need help.’ I agreed. Things got out of hand. I had no control over it. One line would become two, two would become four; four would become one gram, one gram would become two. I could not sleep. I couldn’t eat. My diabetes made me inattentive, causing headaches and mood swings. Like many addicts, part of me welcomed the discovery: the secrecy had been exhausting.”
Akram retired with 414 wickets in Test cricket and 502 in ODIs – both remain Pakistani records•AFP
Akram went to rehab and found the experience harrowing – “The doctor was a complete con man, mainly concerned with manipulating families rather than treating patients, separating relatives from money instead of drug users” — and ended in a relapse.
“No matter what I tried, part of me was still smoldering inside of the humiliation of what I had endured. My pride was hurt and the appeal of my lifestyle remained. I briefly considered getting a divorce. I decided to move on to the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy which, under Huma’s daily control, I started using again.”
Akram says cocaine use ended after Huma’s death in October 2009 from the rare fungal infection mucormycosis.
“Huma’s last selfless, unconscious act cured my drug problem. That way of life was over and I’ve never looked back.”
Akram has since remarried and has three children – two sons from his first marriage and a daughter from his second. In his interview with The Times, he said he had written his book for his children.
“I’m a little worried about the book,” he said, “but I think once it’s out I’ll be a little bit over it. I’m worried because at my age I’m 56 and I’ve had 25 diabetes it’s just stress you know…it was hard to rewatch everything i did it for my two boys who are 25 and 21 and my 7 year old daughter just to tell my side of the story .”