Not very long ago, in a popular satire show on one of the cable channels, the father of political satire in Pakistan, Anwar Maqsood questions the late Moin Akhter, dressed as a Bangladeshi cricketer, as to why Bangladesh have stopped winning games against Pakistan?
The amusing reply, scripted by the great writer and rendered to perfection by the best comedian produced by Pakistan, is one that leaves one in fits of laughter. The late Moin Akhter (as a Bangladeshi cricketer) explains that when Pakistan lose a game they are grilled with all sorts of allegations from match fixing to foul play. “In our country, the river hits a reverse flow; if we win, everyone is shocked. We are taken into custody, kept awake during the night and questioned hard as how on Earth did we win, what did we do to get such results? We ultimately decided not to win onwards.”
Interestingly, Pakistani fans have similar cautious feelings at the moment. Although they are pumped up, joyous, ready for revenge and right behind their team. But take them aside and ask them to put their hands on their hearts and give an honest reply – and a healthy majority will open up to the fact that all this is too good to be true. For many it’s like coming up to a temporary oasis, an artificial surrounding – but one they are happy to believe and live in till at least this Sunday.
Pakistan vs India final, that too in the Champions Trophy, who would have thought of it? The official broadcaster’s promo, however, makes us believe that the stylish Ramiz Raja was the first pundit to predict such a possibility. Not to forget the many social media junkies who have made a habit of creating a stir by positing unlikely possibilities. Ironically, sometimes thinking differently, or let’s say just cracking an odd joke, does make things swing in your way. And all those who dared walk that path are now enjoying renewed fame and hundreds of likes.
But how did Mother Nature suddenly decide to smile on Team Green? How did the tides turn in its favour? Honestly, no one has the slightest of ideas. But in a country of 210 million cricket fanatics, there is no shortage of self-proclaimed experts. Everyone has their own - right or wrong - befitting logic that they are in no mood of stepping down from.
In my 16 years of cricket coverage, it’s not the action inside the boundary, but the constant see-saw mood swings of Pakistani fans that I have enjoyed the most.
Carrying the burden of 210 million expectations makes the job of a Pakistani cricketer a dangerous one. One maiden performance could elevate him to the ranks of Hercules, but God forbid if he fails to live up to his fans’ expectations, he would conveniently be dubbed as a ‘Parchi’ (forced inclusion) or labelled a traitor of the likes of Mir Jafer.
Right after the Indian hammering in Birmingham, all hell broke lose for the Green Shirts. Hopes were tarnished, emotions went wild and anger gripped the entire cricket-mad nation. A humiliating loss at the hands of the archrivals was not tolerable. It seemed like an entire nation was ripped off its prestige, its self-esteem and pride shattered.
Social media these days is a powerful platform to vent out one’s frustration. Populous cricket groups like Boys in Green, Cricket HQ and My Cricket Lounge became hotbeds of heated debates and flared emotions. Charges were filed, sentences read out and the likes of Azhar Ali, Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Wahab Riaz were declared empty shells and ordered to be thrown to the lions.
Sarfraz Ahmed, standing in his first real test as skipper, was declared the ultimate misfit for captaincy. As always there was an outcry to induct new blood. There are just two small obstacles in the way of these demands: this team already has a fair share of young blood and second, everyone forgot that the team was in London to win the Champions Trophy and not just defeat the Indians.
Luckily for Sarfraz, the next stop were the Proteas, his lucky Bunny. Remember the 2015 World Cup where he made his resounding debut against South Africa? A performance that breathed life into Pakistan’s run in the tournament and paved a new path for Sarfraz’s ODI career. This time too, a commanding win against the No. 1 ranked team washed away all sins.
The bearish trend of Pakistan team turned to hit the upward mark and all pieces of the scattered puzzle started to fall in place. For the enraged and disgruntled fans, everything about Sarfraz, from his hard-hitting scolds behind the stumps to his unconventional stance at the crease, all started to make sense. And as they trashed Sri Lanka (thanks to some hot potato juggling from the Islanders) and tamed the clueless English lions, the Green Shirts suddenly became the apples of all eyes.
Like always, every die-hard Pakistani cricket fanatic cum expert had their own version of this resurgence. For some it was the curse of Ahmed Shehzad and Wahab Riaz that kept the team from shining, some thought it was the result of inducting new and fearless talent, many saw Sarfraz as the resilient leader who installed survival instincts in the team and for most, it was simply the blessing of Ramzan.
Pakistan, under Sarfraz, are now a fearsome and talented bunch who not only have the courage to take on the big boys, but also have the ability to create havoc behind enemy lines.
Love it or hate it, but this is how Pakistan cricket functions, and its emotional fans will always have temperamental reactions. I have always respected their topsy turvy and often difficult relation with the team, and in all honesty, I have always enjoyed it.
It’s Dangal time once again. Pakistan and India wrestling in an ICC final, the game of cricket doesn’t get any bigger than this. With television viewership expected to scale well over a billion, ICC would be ordering new safe boxes to stock piles of dollars during these nine hours of action and thrill.
The seat-to-seat packed Oval will witness two simultaneous battles, one by the players and one amongst two equally flared up sections of crowds. India are the defending champions so the pressure must be right up to their necks. As for Pakistan, they have already exceeded expectations and earned their respect from all quarters.
The boys are in perfect rhythm and roaring to get a firm grip at the trophy. Although the ardent fan inside us screams that Pakistan will walk victorious, but let’s not forget that India are a well-balanced side and would give Pakistan a tough time.
India have made it a habit of emerging victorious at ICC games, whereas the Pakistani fans have had to wait for generations. This time, however, Sarfraz and his men have promised us the most realistic chance in years to break the jinx. Here is looking forward to a fiercely fought game. May the best team win!