Whatever you find beautiful is bound to break your heart—sport teaches us this fundamental lesson. This is of course then true of cricket too; perhaps the only remaining hope of bringing a collective joy to this increasingly divided country.
Our World Cup campaign suffered set-backs even before it got off the ground. We lost the world’s best spinner to a mix of changes in the governing law of the game and its (in)convenient timing. Two of our pacers were injured. Their presence would not have made the current outfit a Dream Team by any means but the luster in our green and white was considerably diminished as a result of these exclusions.
And hence Team Pakistan, living in exile as it has for so long, entered the World Cup.
The mere hope that they can pull off a miracle win on certain days against certain powerful opponents will keep us glued to the television screen. On other days, against weaker teams, we will just be praying that (in keeping with our national character) we avoid an embarrassing collapse of all things respectable.
Team Pakistan forces us to confront what we love and loathe in ourselves—we love the passion that can trigger magical moments of brilliance with no rational explanation for it. And we loathe the inconsistency and the unenviable talent of throwing away perfectly good opportunities through a lack of application.
Team Pakistan embodies our suspicion for all things that do not go our way. A dropped catch is always a possible sign for most that the game was ‘fixed’—such thinking is deeply unfortunate—and this reflects a deeper malaise that we are victims of a conspiracy. That whether its cricket or geo-politics we are being made to watch a game the result of which has already been decided elsewhere. It is that feeling of powerlessness, the anger and disappointment that can only come from the belief that you have been tricked into believing something, that defines so much and so many in Pakistan.
When the national cricket team re-affirms such deep-rooted fears, the world is a terribly unjust place.
On such days, everything is lost. People feel compelled to announce that they will not watch cricket again—and yet we would miss something in our national character if we failed to identify how endearing that declaration itself is. It is like a public end to a love affair. You want the world to know that it is over. And you want others to nod their heads and tell you that you had no other option. There is no point watching this cricket team. And you think that it is over but you and tens of millions are always peeking for the next great sighting of the object of your affection.
Then there is the other side of this tumultuous love affair. The magical side—a happiness that seeps into your veins, as individuals and as a collection of people.A joy so pure that it can only come from something as pure as unconditional love. There is naivety in all of this but then what kind of romance lacks naivety? The green and the white all comes together on such days. Strangers smile at each other for no reason. No one cares about traffic jams or the noise. Even the deaf probably hear the sound of happiness in Pakistan when we win a big game. For those fleeting moments, we are in control of the world. No more powerlessness, no more trickery. No more the victim but the conquering souls who set right all the injustices in the world. That is what a boundary, a catch, a run-out or a stump flying out of the ground can achieve.
As I write this, we have been beaten by India and West Indies comprehensively. The only silver lining is that we have ensured that the World Cup will be a more interesting tournament since our shambolic display has helped two opponents get into good rhythm. However, while we are justified in feeling disappointed with the performance so far, I hope that we can all differentiate between what we think of the performance on a particular day and the pride that we feel in those who wear our national colors—the second is non-negotiable.
There is no shortage of idiots who ridicule these remarkable men who represent this country. Anyone who feels compelled to insult the breathtaking talent and achievement of Team Pakistan is welcome to pick up a cricket bat or ball and go to the next trial at the regional level. If you are not spellbound by the sheer brilliance of human talent on display, you are either blind or the next Wasim Akram.
Millions of people in this country grow up with dreams of playing for Pakistan. These dreams are played out on the streets, in classrooms when the teacher is away, at cricket maidans or just in bed as you stare at the ceiling. Few have the talent to realistically believe they are capable of landing the hardest job in the country—yes, being on the Pakistan cricket team is the hardest job to land. Fewer still put in the astounding amount of hardwork and sacrifice needed before you can say, “I play cricket for Pakistan.” A handful make it to the final team. These are dreamers, achievers, geniuses and people who have never let anything stand in their way. When they say, “we play for Pakistan”, we genuinely believe that they do. They play for us—for you and for me.
They may lack in many respects but trust them we must. Respect them we must. Whatever else happens, their greatest strength is our belief in them. Win or lose, they are Team Pakistan. And if we are a team, we are in this together. Those who boo them will never have the same talent, glory or opportunity so maybe we should just ignore them.
So the next time a ball races across the outfield in Australia and New Zealand, may it whisper to the grass the secrets of our love affair with this great game. May the stumps fly high and the sixes soar. And may the best team win. But let us hope and pray that it brings Pakistan lots of joy. We can all use a day or two of happiness.