Monday, June 22, 2009

A Triumph Against The Odds -- And Against The Cricketing Establishment Too

On the cricket field, there can be no doubt how this World Cup victory compares to the one in 1992: it doesn't, really. The ODI World Cup in 1992 really, really meant something, while T20 cricket is still treated as somewhat of a sideshow in international cricket.

Compare the teams, too: the talismen of the teams were Wasim Akram and Shahid Afridi respectively -- one is among the twenty greatest cricketers of all time, and one has so barely scratched the surface of his talent that it is criminal. Compare the batting: Miandad, Imran, Inzi and Malik against Younis, Misbah, Afridi and Malik (the other one). No contest. The bowling? Aaqib Javed against Abdul Razzaq? Mushtaq Ahmed against Saeed Ajmal? Wasim Akram against Umar Gul? Please.

And yet this victory is more liberating. Why? Because it represents more than just sporting accomplishment. Because it has freed Pakistan cricket and its followers from the shackles and chains that have been imposed on us by the ICC, the Taliban, western boards, incompetent security and board officials in Pakistan, and everyone else that has wittingly and unwittingly ensured that Pakistan will not see international cricket within its borders for the foreseeable future. Because Pakistan, which was already isolated as a cricketing destination, was at considerable risk of being isolated as a cricketing nation. Because we have loudly and unequivocally announced to the world: Hey! We still matter!

We have shown that international cricket needs a thriving Pakistan team. To his eternal credit, Sanjay Manjrekar -- one of the world's most underrated and incisive commentators and analysts -- realized this, and said so as much in the turnaround-game against New Zealand. Without Pakistan, the world of cricket was on the verge of a becoming a super exclusive super-club of Australia, India, England and South Africa -- who play each other pretty much twice as much as they do against everyone else. This was a victory for the underdogs, the acned and pimpled kids who never get invited to the cool-kids parties, the ones who are socially awkward and can never get the hot girls (even those that claim to like the eccentric types). This was a victory for Sri Lanka and New Zealand too, ironic since we knocked them both out, because they are in the same position we are: an afterthought in the increasingly exclusivist cricketing hierarchy.

And what a victory it was. The whole "Pakistan win with their usual unpredictability and glorious unknowability" angle is valid but seriously overblown. Pakistan have easily been the world's best T20 international team since the format's inception. Is it really that much of a surprise that we won? Our players have grown up playing a format remarkably similar -- galli/mohalla cricket, intensely competitive games of 10-15 overs each on average, played over and over and over again well into the night, especially in Ramadan, games which place a premium on intelligence, skill, and ingenuity. We have the heady, sensible batsmen who don't get fazed (Younis, Malik, Misbah), bowlers who can bowl dot balls through variations and accuracy (Gul, Afridi, Ajmal) and the all-important wildcards (Akmal, Afridi with the bat).

The only people for whom our T20 skills were a surprise were the ones who don't actually pay attention to us, i.e. every non-Pakistani in the world. In that respect, our IPL boycott/unofficial ban (depending on which version of the story you believe) was the best thing that could have happened to us. The idea that the IPL was a cause of fatigue and thus the exit of teams like Australia and India is nonsense -- you don't get tired playing cricket for three and a half hours when you've been playing seven hour cricket your whole life.

But one advantage of not playing in the IPL that was true was that we were completely unheralded going in. Think about how ridiculous it was to hear foreign commentators being surprised at Gully's bowling at the death or Afridi's strangling of the middle overs. They simply didn't know. And why would they? What was perfectly obvious to us was simply unknowable to them, because nobody plays us or pays us attention.

That said, we did make it immensely difficult for ourselves with our abject failures against England and Sri Lanka earlier in the tournament. But even those losses were due to rust (the fielding against England would make school-level coaches barf) and silly selection (Salman Butt? really?) rather than some fundamental problems with our cricket.

So while it is fair to say no one really expected us to win, no one really expected us to fail to contend at all either. Our victory didn't come from nowhere, it just came from somewhere unlikely. While some of our strenghts could not have been foreseen -- Afridi remembering how to bat, anyone? -- some of our weaknesses (Misbah's underwhelming form) could just as much be written off as unexpected. In short, we were a prototypical cup-winning team: we had all the ingredients for success, and were one of three or four legitimate contenders, and we caught fire at the right time, and that was the end of that. Italy in 2006, Australia in 1999, the Lakers in 2001 -- all are examples of peaking at the right time, even when success never looked likely early on. Such is life.

We should all thank this team, not just because of the success they have allowed us to share in, not just because they have guaranteed that we won't be pushed around on the international stage for the foreseeable future, but also because they are so damn likeable. With the charismatic and disarmingly honest Younis as captain, with the cancerous Shoaib Akhtar jettisoned, with youthful exuberance in the form of Aamer, Ajmal and Shahzaib, and with unfair outcome upon unfair outcome tripping us up, people couldn't help but like us. But to all those people who avoided us like we were lepers, who didn't want to tour us for personal reasons masked in the language of security, who scheduled us for bullshit tours as run-ups to main events, who brushed us aside and questioned our place in the international cricketing fraternity, who almost ensured that cricket died in Pakistan, I just have one question:

How do you like us now, bitches?

20 comments:

meyumsworld said...

you are absolutely right in saying that this may be no comparison to 1992 win in terms of talent and experience but this win was liberating. but i also feel that this win also showed that afridi, younis, misbah, umer gul, they all atleast had the vigour in them if not the experience to actually come out winners,[ yes the endless galli muhallah cricket wins:D] most people right down till the final match were thinking, "our team will let us down" because there is no experince that more of tukkas, flukes. Well i guess all were proven wrong and there will be no shoving and pushing on any front.
congratulations:)

Mosharraf said...

Makin me cry kiddo. Makin me cry.

Anonymous said...

That's just how we roll bitches...

Pinky said...

Congratulations compatriots!!
& to all the snobs who were seeking our banishment from international cricket, here i am with my tongue sticking out :>
la la laaa la

by the way, can anyone plz enlighten me what has Imran nazir done to bring us "shame"?..today on the news i heard some PCB official lashing out at him

AKS said...

Congratulations everyone.

Last night was amazing, its been such a long time since Pakistanis felt good about anything.

My parents who are usually in bed by 10 went to Seaview and were there till around 1.

@ Pinky

It might have something to do with his 4 match (I think) ban from domestic cricket owing to gross misconduct. After being given out in the domestic T20 championship, IN repeatedly smacked his bat on to the ground and told the umpire that he's blind (he may also have abused the umpire).

Rohith said...

Dude, relax.
Agreed it was an inspired performance and that this would go a long way in restoring Pakistan's pride as it were in international cricket. But that is about it. Period.

As I commented yest on Live blog, hope this brings a positive effect to the June 25 meeting of the ICC, though rationally speaking it may not.

Coming to why people never considered Pakistan seriously enough wrt cricketing chances @ t20 wc, you cant blame them for taking to that conclusion given what was on

offer for view (series against australia, warm up gains, rustiness). Heck I am not sure if many from Pakistan, incl you, were sure enough that Pakistan had what was

required to get u thru; and i mean rationally (not emotionally). It was really that game against Newzealand that brought many ppl's attention (mine included) to the

resurgent belief that was then planted in the team. Talent has always been there, but it had not translated into any sort of action prior to the WC.

Further, as far as i am concerned, your description of Pakistan as the outcast, pimple faced guys etc etc is taking it a bit too far. Teams did not visit Pakistan because

of sound reasons, which did not need any further reinforcement after what happened in Karachi and the events that have followed it vis a vis war on taliban and

retailiations thereafter. And i dont think this win does anything to restore any of those doubts. If anything, there will be more people clamouring to host the home series

of Pakistan at their venues (I think there was some offer from lancashire recently for a series to come).

What i also read from your article is the all too familiar tendency of the psyche of a lot of people from Pakistan to create the illusion of the "other" to ratify/satisfy its

achievements/identity. No, there is no "the other" as far as Pakistani cricket is concerned. Think of it, who would benefit from Pakistan's ouster, considering the kind of

viewership they generate(ask bcci about hosting Pakistan in India and they will start salivating, look at how the grounds were packed in england).

So what does this boil down to then?

1)It massively restores confidence of the country (in itself and everything it stands for/against).
2) Its probably symbolic of how Pakistan can and will conquer everything it desires and against all odds.
3) It also maybe means that given clarity of who and what the opponent was, Pakistan did well to over come them through cricketing skill. Such clarity on political

grounds would also help immensely take the country forward.
4) It brings Pakistan cricket right back into the conscience of the world and itself. Hopefully there will be more cricket, even if on neutral venues.

PS :- wrt ur comparisons to 1992 wc team, i think u have done an unjust comparison. Wasim, Inzy, Mushie etc were THEN not the greats that they are now. So, do give

the Ajmals and Guls of today chance to match up to the careers of the erstwhile greats in the time to come.

Rohith said...

Apologies for the extra linebreaks in the previous comment. Copy paste problem :(

Junaid said...

Well written piece mate. Made me smile. :)

FZ said...

Rohith,


Jal muth....kala ho jai ga...

Rohith said...

@FZ

haha ..dikkat wahi ho gayi na...aapne mujhe dekha nahi hai...:P

mujhe pata hai aage aur bhi aayenge aisi tippani. par gaur se padhoge toh jaanoge ki maine na pakistan ke bare mein kuch bura likha hai na main is jeet se dukhi hoon. Upar wale ki dua se jald hi India Pakistan match hoga :)

FZ said...

Rohith,

Ok if you insist....

FZ

ps. paRhoge not padhoge...seriously you guys have to stop doing that

karachi khatmal said...

@Rohith

quite a sensible opinion...

but still, fuck yeah!!!! we're world champions...

i also take offense to some of the comparisions... in 1992, i don't know how big the odi world cup was, i mean until the mid-90s glut post the 96-world cup, most people's attitudes towards one-days was slighlty better than it is about t20 right now...

secondly, wasim bhai is wasim bhai, but afridi is a glorious fucken rock star... no one can compare in terms of star power - have you seen the kiss to kallis? must watch... and the point and posture is the single greatest thing to happen to cricket since overarm bolwing began...

R Malik said...

"and the point and posture is the single greatest thing to happen to cricket since overarm bowling began..."

ROFLCOPTER! Love that observation. And am I the only one to think its very Tony Manero-ish?... Saturday Night Afridi.

Rohith said...

@ KK and all,

Again, Congrats and more congrats... enjoy your time in the sun :)

Also, now given that Pakistan has made it to the finals both times, and went one better this time, its time due credit is given. Trash all that IPL hype :))

PS :- would like to correct reference to Karachi in the earlier comment. Read it as lahore.

snikometer said...

first of all, YYYYYYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

secondly, i disagree that most pakistanis thought we could do this. Most Pakistanis actually thought we sucked as much as everyone else thought we sucked.

People like Gul, Amjal, Akmal and even Afridi performed above and beyond what we have ever seen them do.

Sure, Gul was good during the last world cup, but did anyone really think he could produce 12 perfect yorkers in those two overs against South Africa? Or that Afridi had the brain mettle to make two back to back responsible fifties? Or that Akmal's timing can be so consistently orgasmic? Or even that Amir could bowl that over to Dilshan?

That's what makes this victory even more mind-blowing (at least for me, and i'm pretty sure for most pakis) was that these guys played fucking amazing cricket, better than we've ever seen them play.

supe said...

''wasim bhai is wasim bhai, but afridi is a glorious fucken rock star.''

waah oye karachi khatmalaa!
what is about you and getting to have the last say every bloody time, eh?

sai said...

Firstly, Congrats to you guys for a very well deserved victory. This is one well balaned team.

I am not sure how far the stuff about the big boys club is true, so no comment on that. But your comment that other countries have are being unreasonable/unfair in not visiting Pakistan is pure rubbish. It would have been atleast debatable before the attack on the SL team took place. But it sounds absolutely absurd after the paksitani security apparatus proved quite comprehensively that they are incapable of providing foolproof security.

Ahsan said...

Sai:

On the big boys club, here are the facts:

1. (Using stats since Jan 1 2000) Against England, India and SA, Australia have played 2.035 tests per year per team. Against everyone else they have played an average 0.825 tests per year per team. Put differently, if you are India/SA/England, you are almost three times more likely to play Australia in a test than anyone else at any given time. In all, they have played more tests against the other three big boys (58) than they have against the rest of the cricket world combined (47).

http://stats.cricinfo.com/ci/engine/team/2.html?class=1;filter=advanced;type=team

2. In ODIs, Australia have played an average of 3.614 games per year per team. Against all other test playing countries, they have played an average of 2.614 games per year per team. So even though the different is less, it's still significant (about 40% more cricket on average).

http://stats.cricinfo.com/ci/engine/team/2.html?class=2;spanmin1=1+Jan+2000;spanval1=span;template=results;type=team

I'm too lazy to do the corresponding figures for the other big boys, but I promise you, they will be very similar.

2. On the security question, it's not a black and white issue. I agree that after the SL attack, we should not have home cricket for a long time, until the situation settles down and/or our security and board officials get their act together. But I was talking about events before that, when western teams used the security issue as an excuse to mask their personal preferences to not tour Pakistan (they get bored here, no clubs, no alcohol, stuck in their rooms because of security etc). Anyway, it's all a moot point now.

Rohith said...

@ Ahsan,

Ok so we are onto some serious number crunching are we? :)

I did an analysis similar to yours using the links you gave with one set of stats for Aus vs (Ind Eng SA) and (Pak, WI, NZ, SL), assuming others to be too lightweight. As u said, 58 matches for the first set and 41 for the 2nd making the ratio of mtchs per country at 2:1. But consider the following as well

1) I think it would be more prudent to see no of tournaments played rather than no of matches, because no of matches per tournament(and hence the total) would really be determined by the amt of biz it is expected to make. (though no of tournaments too wld be lower for the 2nd set but not as skewed)

2) In relation to no of tournaments played, i think it was mandated by ICC in early 2000s that each test playing tournament has to tour each of the others atleast once every 4 years. That is 2 bilateral series between say Ind Pak every 4 years. This was with the same view of keeping all teams and venues relevant and alive(also some wrt ICC ratings thing). The no of matches per tournament was maybe left for the two boards to decide.

3)If you look at the data for the set of 4 countries that Pak belongs to, NZ and WI have healthy no of matches (13 and 15) while it is only Pak and SL that lose out with 7 and 6 resp. While I agree that a large part of refusals have been in the false garb of security concerns, there were genuine problems in both countries in the decade with untimely blasts in both countries during or near scheduled tours (was it SA or NZ tour when the blast near team hotel took place in Pak? Similar incidents happ with SL as well)

4) Also do mind that, with such "superficial" security concerns, countries have also paid heavy prices with one such instance being WC of 1996 when SA/Aus dint visit SL for grp games and eventually SL took the cup.

5) And finally, to the most interesting one.I think it would pay to look at the "competitiveness" factor as well to judge the willingness of countries to play more matches agst each other. in case of Grp 1, Aus's record is (58 P, 15L, 9D => 26pc loss) while against Grp II it is (41P, 1L, 6D => 2.5pc loss)Hence greater the competitiveness, more the interest and hence more the no of matches scheduled per tournament as per point 1 above. Have considered loss pctg as aus were the team to beat in this decade.

I guess u would be convinced that it is a host of the above factors and not just the bully thing.

PS :- 1) it would be interesting to see developments on Sl front now that things are relatively stable there
2) Given the amt of time that PCB has faced this problem of abandoned tours, i think its high time it take the path BCCI took for the IPL this year. If not feasible in your country, get some arrangements done elsewhere. At least keep the cricket going.The takers for that should now increase given this world cup win.


Sry to make this comment so long.

zf said...

Nice!