Confessions Of A Pessimistic Cricket Fan
It finally happened. It’s real. It’s beautiful.
This isn’t going be an emotional article, it’s more of a narration, a confession, an admission and yes, this all is still unbelievable.
I just came back from Liberty roundabout, Lahore where the Sri Lankan Cricket Team fortunately survived but our cricket died. We lost the right to play at home, at our own stadiums, in front of our own people and the right to host the World Cup in 2011.
But let’s rewind a bit.
Just like millions of others, I have been a cricket fan since forever. Or at least I was. One of the earliest memories of my childhood is of 1992 World Cup; we used to live in Mureedkay, a small city outside Lahore. I just remember my whole neighborhood was outside; on the roads, dancing, singing and celebrating because we had won something.
Fast forward to 1996, we had moved to Lahore by then. Pakistan had been knocked out by arch rivals India and the atmosphere was bitter. There were attacks and allegations on players particularly Wasim Akram. It was a day before the World Cup Final between Sri Lanka and Australia. We were out in the area and got to know that stadium was open for public. They were testing the newly installed floodlights. So my dad took us there, they let us in and that was the first time I saw a cricket stadium in my life. To me, Gadaffi Stadium has never looked as majestic as it did that day.
In 1999, Pakistan probably had the best ODI line up of our history. We have been inconsistent, there were allegations & inquiries into match fixing, and the usual tussle for captaincy. Today`s generation probably doesn’t know this, but back then our captains normal tenure was 4-5 months. Still Pakistan performed brilliantly, made it to the final. The entire neighborhood got those jerseys (still the best ever!) and our families got together to see the match. It was and remains one of the biggest anticlimaxes of our cricketing history. We never showed up. The moment Saeed Anwar changed the grip; it was all the downhill from there. It remains one of the saddest memories of my sporting history.
I watched 2003 World Cup because it was the last hurrah for almost all of my childhood heroes. By then almost everyone from 99 team had been captain of Pakistan and at one point or the other. We didn’t really have hopes with that team but I wanted players like Saeed, Wasim and Waqar to bring down the curtain on their careers with a win. They bowed out in a disappointing manner and with Saeed Anwar`s retirement, it was the end of my obsession with the game.
Pakistan has had many low points since then, some of the worst of our history. Ireland knocked us out in 2007; one year before the next world cup we lost our three main players in spot-fixing scandal, and somehow we still managed to play the semi-final. Pakistan`s performance has been anything but consistent. There were not many near misses, they were either beating the hell out of every side by boring to them death in UAE or getting out for less than a 100 in England. They have defied modern cricket, refused to change the old guard, picked wrong players for different formats, and above all refused to admit that there are problems. Yes they did rise to number 1, which was an amazing achievement, but at the same time using the same mindset and approach has cost them in ODIs and T20s. Their openers have strike rates in 70s while the world is aiming for scores of 400+. The cricket board has been run by bureaucrats, politicians, bankers, and journalists. Other than captaincy, nothing has been consistent for Pakistan cricket for the last 7 years.
I admit, going into this tournament I had no hopes from Pakistan. They were deservingly the 8th ranked team in the tournament. They were playing poor cricket and with game plans that worked well in 90s. Our most successful Test captain had left a defensive, safety first approach which worked well in Tests but literally destroyed the shorter formats. We were only in the tournament because we refused a series against Bangladesh to ensure our qualification. The aim was to beat Sri Lanka in the group match and get some valuable points so we can qualify for the World Cup.
Pakistan did exactly what was expected of them. Even their win against South Africa was a pleasant surprise but for me it was more of South Africa choking than Pakistan winning. We did create a mess against Sri Lanka but that’s just Pakistan cricket for you. The win against England really pumped me up, it was an amazing performance as I had been fan of the English team`s approach over the last two years. But somehow Pakistan pulled them back into 90s with and bingo!
I don`t remember when was the last time I saw a full Pakistan-India match, it was probably back in 2003-04 when the Indian team visited Pakistan for a full tour. These matches have lost their intensity; India has been playing better at ODIs, their World Cup 2011 win being cogent proof.
Yet today, I just returned from Liberty roundabout, Lahore. I went there because with all the problems, inconsistency, and my ever growing pessimism, Pakistan has finally done the unthinkable. Somehow this team has defied the laws of cricket and beaten a strong Indian team by 180 runs in the final of an ICC tournament – a run for every million of our population. It is not about the win, it is about the way they won. For once, I saw a team which utilized their chances, learned from their mistakes, put pressure on the Indians and above all showed aggression.
It had been long time coming.
I saw the full match today with my dad & brother and was joined by few of my old school buddies towards the end. I clapped on every milestone, appealed on every wicket and hugged them. Then I went out with them to Liberty to celebrate. Those who know me well can assure you that this is unlike me, but yes we danced there for two hours, hi-fived almost a random hundred people and celebrated it as a nation. This nation deserves better, they want the joy of cricket in their own country. It is the one thing that brings together this socially, politically and religiously divided country.
I am pretty sure that I’ll be back to my old routine soon, so will the Pakistan team. They will be inconsistent again; they will perform poorly and disappoint us. This win will go down as one of the greatest in our history but we all know it does not really solve the issues with the management and domestic cricket.
But that can wait because somehow this team has managed to give us something to cherish, dance and scream about. Somehow we are on the top of the world again; somehow, we are Pakistan Cricket.
The writer works in the social sector with a special interest in counter extremism, and storytelling through visuals. He is Co-Founder of My Voice Unheard and tweets at @manihammad