They say that a picture is equal to a thousand words, and at Mohali, the image of Pakistani woman in the stands really said it all. Dupatta firmly in place on her head, her lips moved feverishly, with her face turned up in desperate beseech to the heavens, as she prayed earnestly for Pakistan to win. Sadly, Shahid Afridi and his team did not make it to the finals, and although one must laud the fact that they reached the semis, it has to be said that Pakistan are possibly the most frustrating team in the world to watch and follow.
Watching Pakistan play is like observing an extremely inelligent student, loaded with potential, who still ends up with a B-Minus in his O’Levels. He saunters to school with a carefree attitude coupled with an innate flamboyance, which is both endearing and annoying. He threatens to live up to his immense promise, but somehow never quite manages to. On the other hand, a team like New Zealand is the exact opposite – they can be likened to the hard-working back-bencher who in some way or the other, manages to get a respectable grade nearly every time. (Indeed, Scott Styris embodies that metaphor very well – he is the classic workhorse who’s made himself indispensable to the NZ side not because of his talent, but because of his persistence). Pakistan, on the other hand, is a side loaded with match-winners and talented young men, and yet, we don’t cross the finish line as often as we should. That is the reason why it’s so exasperating to follow Pakistan – there is always an ‘if only’ lurking mockingly in the shadows.
If only Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t been let off so many times (four drop catches, who would have thought?), if only Mohammad Hafeez hadn’t played that daft shot, if only the powerplay had been taken earlier, if only Misbah ul Haq hadn’t fallen asleep for the first part of his innings, if only, if only. Which brings me to another point – why did Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq play a painfully tedious test match innings? Your guess is as good as mine. When Misbah finally rose from his untimely slumber and smelt the coffee, it was a tad too late and the Indians knew the game was theirs for the taking
A few positives though – and Wahab Riaz fittingly tops this list. The delivery that got Yuvraj Singh on the first ball was for me, the wicket of the day. Inswinging, full and fast, Wahab had clattered into the middle stump of a shell-shocked Yuvraj Singh. Alas, Wahab’s five wickets went in vain, but this cricketer is definitely one for the future. Afridi’s captaincy too, I thought was brilliant during India’s innings (and it’s another matter that the side’s fielding let him down horribly). Pakistan have finally unearthed a leader who commands respect from his teammates and countrymen alike. He accepts advice from everyone, but is poised and confident enough to do exactly as he pleases.
Pakistan’s World Cup campaign will hopefully not invite any changes in the captaincy from an unpredictable PCB and one can only hope that the ‘slightly crazy’ Afridi will remain at the helm. For a team that represents a population as capable and as volatile as that of Pakistan, Afridi is the logical, numero uno choice for captain. Asad Shafiq is another bright prospect, and I guess no one had any doubts about Umar Akmal in the first place – but he really needs to translate all that talent to regular big scores for Pakistan.
As Team Pakistan trudges dejectedly home, it is a time to ponder and contemplate upon everything that went wrong. India’s unbeaten run in the World Cup against archrival Pakistan remains, but at the end of the day you have to admit that the Pakistan team has done better than anyone expected them to and their performance has rekindled the heady cricket obsession of the 90s in Pakistan. Except this time round, we have another song. De Ghumaa Ke, anyone?