Even if not as state or society, there’s little doubt that Pakistan is resilient as a nation. Having been torn by war, terrorism, political volatility, economic plunge, this nation isn’t familiar with an idea of life not inhabited by adversity.
Often the means of tackling the perpetual turmoil is through comic relief. In the recent past, everything from the rupee nosediving into devaluating waters, to the region being on the brink of nuclear war, has been met head-on with memes, satire, and generally an unparalleled brand of humour.
Given the nation’s collective obsession with cricket, which overcomes all kinds of divides that are a major factor in the abovementioned crises, it was natural then that the ongoing World Cup was going to see Pakistan fans bring out their irony drenched forks and knives to the table.
Countless memes have gone viral over the internet over the past three weeks. The most prominent among them features one Mohammad Akhtar, whose expression of frustration during Pakistan’s defeat against Australia at Taunton is now being used globally as a comic manifestation of disappointment.
Indeed, the sardonicism among Pakistani fans skyrocketed following the defeat against India. The irony and satire reached such heights that headlines such as ‘Pakistan Loses India Match, But Wins On Twitter’ began erupting across the border. Although of course being the ‘funny one’ is often the euphemism for being second best, which Pakistan absolutely were against India.
A video featuring another Pakistani fan Momin Saqib and his ‘aena nu burger khawao’
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While the video was designed as a humorous – albeit uncannily accurate – take on Pakistan’s performance, it featured one line, which perhaps is the most significant takeaway for the fans from the side’s abysmal showings at the World Cup: ‘kartay hain mohabbat inn se, support kareinge, lekin mohabbat two-way hotihai’ [We love them, we will support then, but love is a two-way thing].
Of all the failures of the national cricket side in England, perhaps the most agonising has been their treatment of the fans. Excruciatingly visible lack of effort, obnoxious fitness levels, and a collective attitude underline the number of damns given by the Pakistani squad.
Whether it’s Shoaib Malik asking for ‘media’s accountability’, Hasan Ali’s passive-aggressive congratulatory tweet to an Indian fan, Mohammed Amir basking in his three performances after two years to lecture fans on social media, captain Sarfaraz Ahmed’s visible escapism at press conferences mirroring his presence in the field – the team’s reaction to the performances has arguably been worse than the displays themselves.
Even Azhar Ali has stepped in on behalf of the team to lecture the media on how they should be reacting to Pakistan’s no-show at the World Cup.
Sure, the fans and media might be displaying disproportionate reactions. But this is the World Cup.
It’s the tournament for which the then 10-match losing streak, clean sweeps against England and Australia, defeat in South Africa and a disastrous Asia Cup in the UAE was all downplayed – because it’s the World Cup that Pakistan were ostensibly eying.
Pakistan’s preparedness for the World Cup can be gauged by the fact that 10 of the 11 players that took part in the first match of the catastrophic Asia Cup campaign against India are in the current World Cup squad.
Two (Mohammed Rizwan and Abid Ali) of the three players that collectively scored five centuries against Australia – a series that was billed as a squad gauging test for the World Cup – aren’t in the squad, the third (Haris Sohail) has only played one match.
Since Champions Trophy 2017, Pakistan have been whitewashed by New Zealand, Australia and England, lost another series to South Africa and only managed to beat Hong Kong and Afghanistan at the Asia Cup – without any repercussions whatsoever, just because what mattered was the World Cup.
And now that they don’t appear fit, prepared, committed or even deserving, to be a part of that very World Cup, the players feel the fans and media are being too harsh?
Perhaps they don’t realise that it’s the same fans who have clutched at the Champions Trophy win to overlook Pakistan’s continued downfall in the 50-over game.
It’s the same fans who bill Pakistan’s batting top three, with their inflated averages and flat-track bullying as ‘world beaters’, even with Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam collectively scoring just a single match-winning century (Champions Trophy final) against a top five side in their combined 140 matches.
It’s the same fans who have touted Hasan Ali as the heir to Pakistan fast bowling greats based on three spells in the Champions Trophy two years ago, and cheered the last minute inclusion of two fast bowlers one of whom had taken five wickets in two years and another who hadn’t played any ODI cricket during the same time span.
Far too many have clung on to their places based on what they did in the Champions Trophy, or have done in the T20 format – including indeed the captain, coach and the chief selector. And yet not a single one of them has the self-respect or dignity to raise their hand and take responsibility.
Pakistan take on South Africa today, knowing that they’ve been all but eliminated from the World Cup. Their fate will soon be sealed mathematically as well – if not today, then in the near future.
With bloated reputations crashing, careers ending, and the inevitable sacking, the only takeaway for the fans from Pakistan’s World Cup disaster has been self-deprecating humour. For, solace can only be found in comedy, when faced with an unmitigated tragedy that this Pakistan cricket team is.