Saad Rasool |
For just a moment, it is time to put aside the rollercoaster ride that is Pakistani politics. For just this moment, let us pause the deafening noise of NAB arrests, useless political haggling, and deplorable speeches on the floor of the Parliament. If only for today, it is time to mute whatever noise is being created by the likes of Fazl-ur-Rehman, or the dinner between the heirs of two corrupt dynasties, or even the punch-lines of Fawad Chaudhry and Sheikh Rasheed.
And instead, it is time to celebrate the one unifying event in our national diaspora: Pakistan vs. India, in a Cricket World Cup. This is not our first encounter with India in the World Cup. Today, Pakistan meets India for the seventh time in an ICC World Cup match! And it provides us – yes, all of us – with a fresh opportunity to break an unspoken curse that has marred all previous encounters.
The first of these occasions, in a world cup, was during the fabled Cornered-Tigers campaign. The year was 1992, and the venue was Sydney Cricket Ground. The frenzy of that day is etched in my memory, as it would be in the mind of any 10-year old cricket fan. Pakistan, led by the incomparable Imran Khan, was in the midst of suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Shakespeare). No one believed that we had much chance of winning the World Cup. However, we had all hoped for the lesser trophy: that of beating India.
In last World Cup, India and Pakistan met at Adelaide. We had a scratchy team, with no bowling greats or batting wizards – with the exception of Younis Khan
It was Sachin Tendulkar’s first world cup, and the Little Master produced a gritty half-century to drag India to (what was then a respectable) score of 216. It was gettable. Very gettable. Especially with the likes of Javed Miandad, Aamer Sohail, and Inzamam-ul-Haq in the team. Sadly, as has now become custom, Pakistani batting order crumbled, finally perishing for a paltry score of 173.
And the wait, of beating India in a World Cup, was pushed back by four years.
In 1996, the awaited day gathered all to the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Pakistan, this time, was the defending World Champion. India batted first. Tendulkar and Sidhu got Indians off to a flying start. Sidhu scored 93, against a testing bowling attack, before Jadeja hammered 45 off 25 balls, bringing the Indian score to 287/8 at the close of their innings.
This score, as impressive as it was back in the day, seemed no match for the swag of our opening pair – Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar, who decimated the Indian bowling attack in the opening overs, scoring 113/0 in 15 overs. On and off-field temperatures soared to a fever pitch, especially for the hot-headed Aamir Sohail, who thrashed Indian pacers all around the park, and made no secrets about his intention to Prasad. Divinity abhors arrogance and just as soon as Aamir was done expressing his dominance over Prasad, his off-stump was uprooted. Pakistan slumped to 184/5, and never recovered.
And the wait continued…
Finally, it was our moment. The year was 1999, the venue was Manchester, and Pakistan seemed unstoppable. Led by the Wizard, Wasim Akram, our team had it all: the steady aggression of Saeed Anwar, the calming dependability of Inzamam-ul-Haq, the irresistible fire-power of Razzaq and Afridi, the undoubtable genius of Saqlain Mushtaq, the reverse mastery of Waqar Younis, the nonnegotiable pace of Shoaib Akhtar, and… the left-arm demi-God himself! There was no ground too big for Saeed Anwar not to clear, on one knee, no batsman so intrepid as to not tremble in the face of Akhtar, and no wall so impenetrable as to stand the test of Wasim Akram.
The Captain, high on his mastery, remarked that Pakistan viewed the India encounter as a “practice match” since the team had already qualified for the Semi-finals. India made a miserly 227, which stood no chance against the Pakistani team. However, as divinity would have it, the curse struck again, and even the mediocre talent of Prasad took five wickets to slump Pakistan to 180 all-out.
And the wait continued…
Next, it was 2003, Johannesburg, when the two teams met in the World Cup again. Saeed Anwar’s 101 had propelled Pakistan to a competitive 274. But, in reply, Sachin Tendulkar was a man possessed. From the first six to Shoaib Akhtar’s over, to the pristine cover-drive in Wasim Akram’s first over, Tendulkar played arguably the best one-day innings of his illustrious career. Tendulkar’s 98 was stronger than any century made by an Indian in the World Cup. Pakistani score, at the end, did not pose much challenge.
And the wait continued…
In 2011, the venue was Mohali. Pakistan was meeting India at the archrival’s home turf, in the semi-finals, with leaders of both the nations cheering on from the stands. Tendulkar made a scratchy 85, shrouded in controversial circumstances, which included dropped catches and a plum DRS review going in his favour. Amidst (substantiated?) allegations of match-fixing, India’s 260, at the end, was 29 runs too much for Pakistani batting. Afridi, the captain, apologised to the Pakistani nation for the loss. Yet none of that was consolation for a grieving nation.
Finally, it was our moment. The year was 1999, the venue was Manchester, and Pakistan seemed unstoppable
In 2015, the last World Cup, India and Pakistan met at Adelaide. We had a scratchy team, with no bowling greats or batting wizards – with the exception of Younis Khan, perhaps, except that Younis scored a mere 6 runs, chasing India’s total of 300, propelled primarily by 107 scored by the new batting royalty – Virat Kohli. As was customary back then, it fell upon the dogged Misbah-ul-Haq to rescue us from a batting collapse. In the end, Misbah’s 76 was in vain, as Pakistan was bowled out for a mere 224 in 47 overs, triggering a frenzy of ‘Mauka Mauka’ taunts.
And the wait continued…
This wait, this agonizing journey of tears and trials, of soaring passions and subdued whispers, of dashed hopes and controversial decisions, has brought us to this Sunday. It has been 27 years since that first time when Imran Khan and Azhar-ud-Din stood together for the toss, in Sydney. Back on the same stage, wearing the same colours, the wait, of conquering India’s winning streak in the World Cup, continues for another few hours.
For a nation troubled by a history of corrupt governance, reeling from crushing financial crisis and a political turmoil that just does not seem to abate, this is a moment of national unity and uplifting. Belief in that Most Merciful God, and in the prayers of millions of mothers across this land, compels me to prophesize that this 27-year old curse will finally be broken today. That the wait is finally over.
And so has India’s winning streak – as painfully taunting and onerous as it has been – this Sunday night!
See you all on the other side. #GoGreen!
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at email@example.com, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article was originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with author’s permission. The Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.