Pakistan cricket’s coming of age story
As a storyteller, I can’t resist a coming of age story. And on Sunday, the Dubai Cricket Stadium was full of them when the boys in green implausibly defeated India by 10 wickets to break their world cup jinx.
The day started with me texting an Indian friend, Manav, who’s as passionate about cricket as I am.
“I feel like you guys may beat us,” I said.
He responded: “Anything is possible with you guys… I’ve learnt the hard way to shut up till the end.”
Cut to a few hours later, and Babar and Rizwan were waltzing us home.
Upholding tradition, I was watching the match with my father when my mum came in for a potential ‘plot twist’ toward the end.
“This is strange,” she said. “Everything seems so... normal.”
She was right. We might as well have been watching an ice-skating tournament, it was all so polished and generally mundane.
What I experienced is probably the first time I have received what I desire from our cricket team: calm professionalism, assured leadership, a sense of purpose, and individual flourishes supported by a unified team ethos. Even though we may lose many other matches in this tournament, I don’t believe that this performance is a one-off. This desire to be calmer and more consistent has been a long time coming.
A lot of it can be attributed to the sense of bonding, the famous ‘cornered tiger’ theory after getting ostracized by the ICC, having tours canceled on us and of course a fair share of self-imposed hara-kiri of board shuffles and management changes weeks before a major tournament, but I don’t think it was just the hunger of the cornered tigers that carved out this clinical victory. There’s been a maturity and an evolution, and it all came together rather serendipitously for us the other night.
What I experienced is probably the first time I have received what I desire from our cricket team: calm professionalism, assured leadership, a sense of purpose, and individual flourishes supported by a unified team ethos.
Foremost, it’s clear that this was Shaheen Shah Afridi’s coming of age game. He’s been on the scene for a few years now, and there’s been a fair bit of chatter around him, but he still hadn’t given that je ne sais quoi performance that lights up his own stage. So what better moment than to shine in an India-Pakistan game at the world cup? My heart exploded a little bit when Ian Bishop called him one of the two “once in a generation” players that Pakistan possesses at the moment. (The other is of course, Babar Azam.) This may not have been his Wasim Akram at the ‘92 world cup moment, and is probably not even his Mohd. Amir at the Champion’s Trophy performance (against the same team), but this lanky left handed Gen-Z fast bowler has arrived on the world stage with his inswinging yorkers and iconic Afridi celebration. Pakistan has a new bowling superstar!
The biggest game-changer (literally because he actually changed his game) is Mohammad Rizwan, who for me is the heart of this Pakistani team. What has always struck me about Rizwan is his faith and his individuality: he has tremendous self-belief and is truly his own person.
In his interviews he speaks about how success is in direct correlation to work ethic. Rizwan keeps it simple and believes that the most prepared player is the one who succeeds on the day. If you need proof of his ethos, just check out the ICC Twitter feed where a video of Rizwan practicing the same shots he would play later in the game against India have gone viral, with the byline “Dream. Visualize. Execute.”
There’s something about the way Rizwan manifests that makes me believe he could write his own version of “The Secret.” He’s humble, focused, and has the heart of a lion. A quiet man of deep faith, I think Rizwan is a fantastic role model for younger men.
Though rather unfairly not included in the ‘Fab four’ (we should just call it the fab 5), Babar Azam’s batting prowess is acknowledged across the world. However, his captaincy in the past has left a fair amount to be desired. He doesn’t possess a naturally expressive personality, but with the right grooming by Misbah, Waqar and the board, Captain Babar has clearly come of age. The skipper has grit, and his calmness and control of the game shone through. Maybe he’s taken a few pages out of Captain Kohli’s book.
Now, Haris Rauf is an interesting character. He came onto our radars after his bawdily exploits at the Big Bash a few years ago where the fans loved him for his pace and his emotional reactions. Groomed in our indigenous tape ball circuit, this ‘tapeya’ has critics and fans divided down the middle. He’s expensive but he’s also a wicket taker. What I loved about the India game is that he was used for his strengths, and was asked to bowl after the tenth over when he’s way more effective. His pace, variety and street smarts make him a threat in the death overs with the older ball.
So how did this all come together so perfectly for Team Pakistan the other night? Because our sense of self is maturing even though we may be shunned by the Big 3, canceled by the IPL and carry an inkling of the wounded belief that we are ‘cornered tigers.’ But what I really saw in our poise was that we weren’t playing the victim card. We held our heads high and played the game that we know how to play. I see our domestic set up getting stronger and throwing up international level talent. Even if the cricket world wants to treat us like outcasts, we have enough of a vibrant cricket scene that we can compete with the very best in the world.
Yes, it feels like the Pakistan cricket eco-system is finally coming of age.
- Adnan Malik is a director and actor based in Karachi. In the past, he played under-19 cricket at the national level.