Pakistan take a big leap forward
Dubai: The world of sport loves a great anecdote. The champion scripts a hard-fought victory against all odds. The perpetual loser, so accustomed to finishing second despite the dedication to his craft, suddenly finds himself on the winner's podium. The ugly winner who comes face to face with defeat and the humility that defining moment brings.
These are just a few illustrations that provide sportswriters with fodder to feed their creative juices. They are also instances closely intertwined with day-to-day life. The lives of everyone who follow the motto of "you win some, you lose some", but always maintain a forward-looking momentum.
The ICC Cricket World Cup is relating a similar story, just in case we failed to notice. The rise and rise of the Pakistani cricket team could be documented as one of the most heartening chronicles in their cricketing history: so similar to the moment when Imran Khan and his cornered tigers mauled the opposition in Australia to win the World Cup in 1992.
It is a perfect script, set for the ideal climax irrespective of who wins the semi-final in Mohali today. It is the account of a group of cricketers who are "potentially" the most talented in the world. They are a step away from attaining glory, or returning home as heroes who fought one battle after another, despite the odds, to spill their guts out in cricket's biggest arena.
What a saga! What's at stake here for cricketers back home in Pakistan? The honour of following a legacy.
Let us park the sheer hype, hysteria and excitement that emanates from an India-Pakistan contest to focus on the eye-opening journey of captain Shahid Afridi and his squad.
It is necessary to put their achievements into perspective and club it with the testing times faced by the people of Pakistan and the controversies that have constantly rocked Pakistani cricket. The team's success at the World Cup has been a soothing balm for Pakistanis all over the world. It has provided hope and succour.
This team has shown immense self-belief by playing for the people of a country which is currently one of the most troubled regions in the world. Pakistan has been in a state of war with extremist forces; has virtually nothing by way of a domestic cricket infrastructure; has played in neutral venues because the ICC will not sanction a home series; lost their two best bowlers and a captain to hefty bans, thanks to spot-fixing charges; didn't have a captain till three days before the World Cup and have proved the public, fans, experts and the bookies wrong by turning the tables on everyone in the competition.
It has been said that the only thing consistent about Pakistan cricket is its inconsistency. But there is a positive side to that statement and these players are reflecting that. Every cricketer has contributed to the cause but none more so than Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan Umar Gul, Ahmad Shahzad, Abdur Razzaq, Syed Ajmal and, when he has a damn good day, even Shoaib Akhtar. At the end of this line-up, quietly pulling the strings like a master puppeteer, is Waqar Younis, himself no stranger to controversy, but a battle-hardened warrior who has pitted his skills against the best in the business. It is fascinating to see him itching to jump into the thick of competition but settling down to plot the enemy's downfall like a seasoned chess player.
This unit has not played consistently as a team, though that is the desired requirement, but each time the chips have been down, one or some of them have stood up to be counted, making a statement of their willingness to succeed. With each victory the bonding and understanding between the players — a notion which has at times been alien to Pakistani cricketers — is being tightened.
This team is sending out messages of hope to its fans back in Pakistan by fighting their way through the odds. It is signalling to the PCB that investments need to be made into the domestic cricketing structure in order to unearth those hundreds of talented cricketers who play on the streets, in alleyways and in parks without ever getting spotted.
It is transporting the point that once talent is spotted the potential must be harnessed and matured. That cricketers need to be protected and made aware of the pitfalls that exist in the game. That honesty can be a lengthy route, but with it comes durability and consequently respect, dignity and prosperity. That falling for the deceit of match fixers is not the answer. Rather, it is the beginning of the end and cricketers in the sub-continent have illustrated this failing once too often. And finally, that there is no substitute for performance.
The beauty of this side is that perhaps they have not gauged the true import of what they have achieved thus far. Each of them stands on the threshold of greatness through various contributions and the expectations are being controlled perfectly by Afridi and his deputy Misbah-ul-Haq. In personality both cricketers are as different as chalk and cheese but they complement each other. There are others who have also served with distinction, such as tireless competitors Umar Gul, Younis Khan and Abdur Razzaq, and together they have functioned as a team whose sum is greater than its parts.
Before the first ball is bowled in today's high-voltage semi-final let us assess the magnitude of the big leap of faith that this team has taken. Theirs has been an achievement recorded against the odds and, irrespective of the outcome of today's semi-final against arch rivals India, Pakistan are already winners.
Taking the World Cup back home would definitely help but in their quest to do so Shahid Afridi and his team have acquitted themselves with honour.
Have your say
Do you agree that Pakistan has reached the semi-finals against the odds? What do you think has contributed to their success?