By Rehan Ulhaq
Any India-Pakistan clash normally captures the imagination of all and sundry at least a week before it actually takes place. This time around, however, in Pakistan the feeling around this match was very subdued. It was either the PSL hangover or an overdose of T20 cricket for Pakistani cricket fans. Even cricket nerds like myself weren’t as excited as they normally are so to create an atmosphere I decided to get some of my friends together to watch the match. Even when the match started it didn’t feel like an encounter with the eternal enemy. Instead it felt like a normal match you see every other day.
In almost typical fashion the Pakistan batsmen threw their wickets away. As frustrating as it is, seeing a run-out these days is run-of-the-mill stuff for any Pakistani cricket fan. The first time it felt like an India-Pakistan match was when my friends started to shout at Khurrum Manzoor’s selection in the team -- from his technique to his lack of match practice, everything was scrutinized. With every dot ball, the curses became more brutal and the volume kept getting higher.
Oh yes, this finally didn’t feel like an ordinary match. India played like an efficient team while Pakistan batted like 11 individuals forced to play a match together. After getting bundled out for 83, there was little hope -- one friend kept cursing the batting, another sat there with a glum look on his face. But little did we know that things were about to get exciting. For Pakistani fans the bowlers are superheroes and we believe in their abilities blindly, part of us always believes that they will save us from any given situation.
Lo and behold, in comes the fallen hero, Mohammad Amir. He swings the first ball in and there is a huge LBW shout in the stadium and an even bigger one from my friends, “That was out, I am telling you that was out”, says one of them. Soon after that, Amir traps Rohit Sharma in front of the stumps again, an even bigger appeal follows -- given out by the umpire this time and all hell breaks loose among my friends. There is fist bumping, there are loud curses, there are creative sendoff messages for Rohit, there is that belief. Rahane takes strike, “He too will get out to Amir in this over”, says the same friend and Amir obliges with another Wasim Akram-esque in-swinging wizard of a ball, another LBW and suddenly everyone in the room starts shouting, “We forgive you Amir”.
Guess all it requires for you to be forgiven by cricket fans in Pakistan is a great over of proper tear-away fast bowling. That is how much we love this art and I guess that is why we all want to become fast bowlers. After all who doesn’t want to be a national rock star?
The adrenaline kept pumping. Suresh Raina was made to look like a mere shadow of himself by Amir and his wicket seemed inevitable when it did come. Amir’s spell didn’t only liven up the match but it also managed to liberate all sorts of emotions within us in the form of sheer anger.
The mood was however dampened by Virat Kohli, a man admired by Pakistanis more than any other Indian cricketer probably because he is as in-your-face as an archetype Pakistan fast bowler would be. While slurs at Yuvraj Singh continued, there was nothing but praise mixed with utter approbation for every run Kohli scored -- even his dabs down to third man were met with sounds only created when you are in complete awe of someone.
With every run that Kohli scored the room became quieter -- a friend even dared to change the channel to check the score of a football match going on. “83 was never going to be enough, only if we had scored 20-30 more runs”, said one of us and that symbolized the perpetual problem of Pakistan cricket. You would think by now the fans would be used to batting collapses but that sentiment is more in sympathy for the bowlers than of actual hope that the batsmen will come good. Pakistan might end up scoring 200 in the next match but that would be an anomaly. Getting 20-30 less runs than the par score is customary.
While this was another match where Pakistan’s batting let their fans down, the bowling looked ominous. Amir was unearthly, Mohammad Irfan a tad unlucky and Mohammad Sami looked like the international bowler he was supposed to be but never could be.
Hope springs eternal, the day the batting fires there is enough in Pakistan’s bowling arsenal to take the team home, but days of the batting clicking are few and far between and that isn’t about to change overnight unless something is done about the batting order and the selection of the top six.
Pakistan fans will be hoping for a chance at revenge in the final but that seems a very distant possibility at the moment.