Pakistan Cricket Is An Exercise in Miracles
A lot has been written about the chaos and unpredictability of Pakistani cricket. Most renowned journalists are superfans themselves, writing about the team in disbelief, in awe and in love.
They write about the spectacle, even the mysticism of the Pakistan side, they make interesting parallels with politics and culture. At the end of the day they conclude that Pakistan is arguably the most resilient team in the history of the game.
After Monday’s match against England, a number of records were broken and Team Pakistan ended its own losing streak of eleven matches. As expected, the tributes and analyses poured in, each one with one single unanswered question: What secret skill makes Pakistan bounce back from seemingly irreparable despair?
It is an unexplainable resurrection, and I put it down to a faith that is unquantifiable, non-linear and incapable of rationalization. It is just there, a part of our DNA. In a country where hope is a life skill, you learn to believe in miracles with all your heart.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Pakistan women’s cricket team spent five consecutive Eids away from their families on tour. Routinely we left behind festivities, birthdays, funerals and chased a victory that was nowhere in sight. This was back when we had no contracts, no monthly income, no televised games and no media coverage. The only thing that kept us fighting was the love of cricket, the love of country and a faith that we had God on our side. We won gold at the Asian Games that year followed by contracts granted to Pakistan’s women cricketers for the first time in 2011.
In the last decade, both the Pakistani men and women national teams have overcome great obstacles. For too long, we did not know how it felt to play in front of a home crowd, and developing new talent was seriously hampered by the scarcity of international cricket at home.
And yet, from Shadab Khan to Iram Javed, we found exceptional talent. Time and again we beat teams with far better resources, structures and pathways. There is no doubt about this: when Pakistan walks out to the pitch, our boys and girls have not had anywhere near an equal start in the game. By any account, we are the world’s most consistent dark horse.
Enter faith and the defiance of logic, the unexplained and abstract display of magic that makes Pakistan so precious to world cricket. In post-win interviews, when our cricketers look up to the skies and say, “First of all, thanks to the Almighty,” it isn’t part of a script. It’s because that is the foundation of our game and of our patriotism. It is because faith in God and faith in the divine hand on the cricket pitch are inseparable, and that becomes the only rational explanation when Pakistan takes home the champions trophy or when 11 men (or women) who come from a country with a limited sporting structure, beat the world’s favorites in a world cup match.
The most important thing now is to keep our emotions balanced for the next game. The Sri Lankans are fighters and in patches, they played good cricket in their first game against New Zealand and displayed a superb fighting spirit in defending a low total against Afghanistan. In our last encounter with Sri Lanka during the Champion’s Trophy, captain Sarfaraz played a fighting knock aided by some average fielding from the Sri Lankan side. It was a thrilling match, and now we anticipate the same proactive magic from Pakistan, with Mohammad Hafeez opening the bowling against left-handed Sri Lankan openers.
In the background there is hard work, commitment, planning and execution. It is impossible to take credit away from the players or the immense contribution from the support staff. There is so much work, planning and mentoring that goes on behind the scenes to keep a team motivated.
In an interview before the match with England, Pakistan Team’s bowling coach Azhar Mehmood said, “England needs 300 balls to get 500 runs but we just need 10 balls to get them out.”
“And God-willing,” he added pointing to the sky, “We will do it.”
If one must quantify miracles before the team faces the best in the world on a batting paradise, that is the way to do it. That is the Pakistani way, it’s simple and sometimes it works like a charm.
Of course, the planning for the England game was close to perfect. The skipper and management made some top notch decisions. Promoting experienced Mohammad Hafeez to number four was the turning point. Bowling Shadab in the power play paid off. Bringing back Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz was the right call. Pakistan were brave and proactive. The execution was spot on. And the win has brought the world cup alive because when Pakistan performs, it lights up the tournament with something analysts literally cannot describe.That is Pakistan cricket, as infuriating as it is wonderful. That is us- the sport’s dark horse, the fighters, the believers.
– Sana Mir is former captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team. In October 2018, she became the first Pakistani women cricketer to rank number 1 in ICC ODI bowler rankings.