September 17, 2021. The worst day of Pakistan cricket probably only matched by the day in 2009 when the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in Pakistan. In 2009 cricket left Pakistan for almost a decade. The day in 2021 had a sense of hopelessness attached to it. The realization that what we did for the New Zealand cricket team was probably the best that we could have done. There was no way in the world we could have improved on the efforts made to get the New Zealand cricket team over to Pakistan and the stupendous amount of work that was put in to ensure their security.
The galling thought that they practiced in Pakistan for five days and 15 minutes before the commencement of the match abandoned the tour made us understand the unpalatable fact that any international team can do exactly that without any thought of repercussions. Add to that the strange reluctance of the New Zealand administration in sharing the threat and its sources added to the hopelessness of the situation. Shoaib Akhtar, the fastest bowler ever produced by the world was upset enough to proclaim that Kiwis killed Pakistan cricket. Later he and the nation realized the resilient spirit of the nation and vowed that such a thing will never happen.
The utter hopelessness and the total feeling of inadequacy
The bitter taste of betrayal in the mouth, the feeling of dread and inevitability was something very rarely experienced in life. I remember one day like this in the life of the nation & that was 16th December 1971. The day when we lost Dhaka. The horror of it is very hard to describe. I know both situations are quite different. One was the ultimate horror of your enemies breaking your country into two while the other one was a potential killing of one sport cricket albeit it was more like a religion in this part of the world.
However, nothing unites the nation as cricket does and it’s a major factor in our feeling and projection of nationalism. Any mortal blow to cricket can be a fatal blow to our uniting as one nation. The feeling was multiplied when in the next few days England followed suit with their men’s and women’s tour which was to be next month. Everybody realized that Australia will never come and many of us panicked. All of us understood that this is a format for which we don’t have an answer. If any team on its own decides without any logical reason or even a real excuse just abandoning the tour, we don’t have any riposte. How to counter that? Another ten years of exile from international cricket and our cricket might suffer irreparable damage. We were getting ready to knuckle another period of international isolation.
The whole messy, disappointing and dismal situation was further compounded with the opposition taking this opportunity to hit the government with the responsibility of killing cricket while playing up their part in partial restoration of cricket by their appointed people. Add to that the feeling of a letdown as the Prime Minister Imran Khan had talked to the New Zealand Prime Minister telephonically assuring maximum protection but even that did not work. The nation got a claustrophobic feeling of being in a quagmire and about to be drowned with an extra noose around the neck just in case we survive the quagmire. There seems to be a sickening realization that now even the miracle man the man we turn to the man of crisis, the hope of the nation Imran khan can not do anything. He did call the New Zealand Prime Minister, didn’t he?
Then something happened and in a period of one month, everything changed
There is a Midas touch about Imran Khan. He gets into the most awful situation, says the most awkward things, gets into a politically unsavory situation, everything seems arraigned against him. No escape seems possible then he pulls Houdini’s act and gets out of the whole situation unscathed with his reputation intact and smelling like a rose. It started with the West Indies standing with Pakistan. Most of the players went to social media to support Pakistan, the board scheduled a women’s team tour of Pakistan, Sri Lankan Players followed suit.
Very soon most of the players, even New Zealanders and English had expressed their support for Pakistan. The icing on the cake was stepping down by Ian Watmore the Chairman of the English Cricket Board, on the decision to cancel the tours of English men’s and women’s cricket teams to Pakistan. Pakistan held a very very successful National 20/20 cup totally debunking the idea of Pakistan being unsafe. The Kiwis talking about rescheduling the tour & the English said that they will tour next year, At this point, it was very clear that popular opinion is in Pakistan’s favor, but the unpleasant fact remains that the damage has been done and will continue its destructive fallout.
Then came the final transformation. The 20/20 world cup begins with all teams having sound preparation & international matches under their belt. Pakistan with no international practice for one and a half months. The first match against the highly fancied IPL strengthened India. Pakistan blew them out of the water with a destructive display of perfect cricket. A 10-wicket drubbing by the Pakistan team hardly broke a sweat. Then came New Zealand who were handed another thrashing by Pakistan. The Pakistani juggernaut continued unabated. They were the first team to qualify for the semifinal of the world. Topping the group and looking like a million dollars.
The experts are in consensus about one thing. The two best teams in this world cup are undoubtedly Pakistan and England. These two are expected to meet in the final. But that is just projection. At the knockout stage of this kind of world tournament, anything can happen. But does it matter? Pakistan has proved its point. They have shown they can tussle with the best and floor them as well. Pakistan has proved that they are a crowd puller, they are one of the best teams in the world and they can beat anybody. The transformation from that cloudy day of September 17th seems complete.
The future is rosy, hope is there, Pakistan cricket is very much alive and kicking. Now it’s the world who will want to play Pakistan and in Pakistan. Pakistan seems to possess everything. The best batsman in the world in Babar Azam, The best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world in Rizwan, the best swing bowler in the world in Shaheen Afridi. One of the fastest bowlers in the world is Haris Rauf and now after the blitz against Afghanistan may be the best hitter in the world in Asif Ali. The point is proven by Pakistan, the world had its nose rubbed in the dust. Winning the world cup? Might be the icing on the cake but they not refusing it bring it on.
The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.