The dream is still alive. Pakistan are still alive. The madness is still alive. It's intriguing, frustrating, enervating, exhilarating. Pakistan are doing Pakistan things at the World Cup and there is no better drug.
Pakistan yawned. Pakistan slept. Pakistan have woken up. Yes, the sleeping giants have woken up. They are still alive in this World Cup. They were almost dead and now risen from the ashes. How do you explain the madness that is Pakistan?
Is there a way to explain? Perhaps, facing a Mitchell Starc reverse swinging yorker is easier than trying to explain or understand Pakistan.
Mercurial. Volatile. Predictably unpredictable.
It actually baffles your mind, how can a team be so predictably unpredictable?
A team whose fortunes swing more than a trash can in a typhoon.
You enter the World Cup as underdogs. The captain belts out a warning that 'all teams are scared' of us. The next day your team itself is left petrified.
Enter the dragon at Trent Bridge: You are left battered, bruised, rattled and blanked by the World No 8 ODI team, the West Indies.
It's your 11th ODI loss on the trot. Three days later, you are staring at the 12th. The fans are staring at the 12th. But out of nowhere, like the Randy Orton RKO, you conjure the unthinkable. Beat the World No 1 and tournament favourites (England). Only Pakistan.
The spirits are high. Ah, how the spirits skyrocket when Pakistan win. Slowly, the down to earth trip starts to unravel in Taunton. You watch helplessly as Warner and Finch manouver an erratic pace attack bereft of logic in overcast conditions on a green pitch. You sit back and think if only the premier spinner, Shadab Khan, was selected as the innocuous part-timers go at 7.8 runs an over with just one in the wicket column. The dropped catches, three of them and misfields hurt, but you are used to it now. You have made a habit of living with it. It's a daily part of your routine.
Amidst the gloom, one man suddenly lights up the County Ground. It's that man who wasn't considered worthy of selection at first and then jettisoned in via a last minute mind change. Mohammed Amir saves your blushes (5/30). It had to be him. The outcast had turned the protagonist. The hero. Only in Pakistan.
But the game has already slipped away in that first two hours. The top order provides you hope while chasing but then arrives the famous Pakistan collapse. Then Fight. Hope. Collapse again. All over.
"We probably made more mistakes", the captain laments. The word 'probably' is of no use in the statement.
Enter Manchester. Exit Manchester. That was quick. The mental block against the bogey team strikes. India vs Pakistan ends up in a no contest. Those long hours spent dressing, painting, preparing placards, scampering for tickets, rushing to the stadium have come to nothing.
You leave Old Trafford early amidst the gloom and the yawns of course. That yawn is the talk of the town. Memes are churned out faster than an average Pakistan fan's mood swings. You stand outside the stadium distraught blaming the players for gulping down burgers and pizzas at 1 AM on the eve of the match. Then belt out philosophical gyaan. Waqt, jasbaat, zindagi (time, emotions and life), everything is changed in a flash.
You fat shame your captain, travelling with his kid, at an airport. Video of your senior-most player with his family and colleagues at a hookah bar termed 'late night' before the match goes viral on social media and news channels. The trolls have a ball. This is the reason Pakistan were yawning in the field they think. The senior player has to clarify the video was from two days ago and request the fans and media to not drag ‘families into petty discussions’. Another player pleads the public to not use bad words. You end the day wondering when in the world will they get the starting eleven right.
Chaos. Utter chaos.
Enter the home of cricket, Lord's. You know that a blink of an eye (against South Africa) and you are gone. The defeat to India is still hurting. Well, it's stinging. The nerves are jangling. But with Pakistan, when aren't they?
Suddenly, there pops up a bolt from the blue rare occurrence.
That of sense prevailing.
The ignored (Haris Sohail) is finally remembered. The (unnecessarily) persisted with (Shoaib Malik) is finally ignored. That originally ignored unfurls his batsuit while last-minute additions (Amir and Wahab) play Robin to the Batman.
Pakistan survive to live another day.
Then the bizarre similarities between 1992 and 2019 start to surface.
1992: Lost. Won. Rained out. Lost. Lost. Won. Won.
2019: Lost. Won. Rained out. Lost. Lost. Won. Won
Oh, it's coming back home.
It's that hope. That killer hope.
Enter Edgbaston. You are up against an unbeaten side sitting at the top of the table. The sequence is similar to 27 years ago.
Ah! Let's not get too much into the fantasy world. But you have won the last match, so naturally, the spirits are high.
Oh, wait! Forgot to point out, the senses haven't been dislodged. They are still firmly intact.
You have gone UNCHANGED.
And then everything starts going to plan, away from the script. Edgbaston is buzzing. You have sent half the Kiwi side back in the hut by the 27th over. The left-armer seamers are on a roll.
"Best Afridi performance in a World Cup match," a retweet pops up on the timeline.
The fat-shamed captain has just dived full length to do what Kamran Akmal couldn’t even come close to eight years ago, catch Ross Taylor.
It should be easy from here on now, the mind murmurs. But with Pakistan it's never easy and nothing's easy. You end up conceding 237. There you go.
Mixed emotions. Still, a bit tilted towards positive.
Four. Four. Four. Four. OUT. Four. Four. Four. OUT.
44/2. It's starting to happen again. Those worse nightmares. Not again. Not after doing all the hard work.
A partnership develops, and so does hope. But then the senior-most pro suffers a brain fade, again.
"Time for the Pakistan collapse."
A WhatsApp message pops up on the private group.
You wait and think it should arrive now. It will arrive now. But the original superhero, the Superman Babar Azam, has finally torn open his shirt and flown down in time to save the country. The originally ignored one has changed to his batsuit again.
Together they successfully save the country.
24,000 at Edgbaston go berserk along with many millions back home. Pakistan zindabad echoes amidst a sea of green. It's as if they have already won the whole thing.
"They produce their best cricket when they are cornered," Rameez Raja had beamed earlier.
Why on earth no one knows. But still, shades of cornered tigers seem to be starting to appear.
The dream is still alive. Pakistan are still alive. The madness is still alive.
It's intriguing, frustrating, enervating, exhilarating. Pakistan are doing Pakistan things at the World Cup and there is no better drug.
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