Michael Jeh May 3, 2010

The beauty of watching Pakistan play

There are not too many other sides in world cricket that make me that nervous, even when Australia are seemingly cruising towards victory

"You never quite know what to expect with Pakistan but you expect to be entertained, frustrated or bewitched at every twist and turn of the game" © Associated Press

Cricket has this wonderful way of throwing up extraordinary events that sometimes teaches us to simply accept the beautiful unpredictability of sport without reading any sinister intentions into it. Struggling to stay awake at about 5 am this morning (Australia time), I was enthralled by a five-wicket maiden over at the end of Australia’s innings in the Twenty20 World Cup match in St Lucia. That an amazing finish to an innings that was rocketing along at breakneck speed just a few overs earlier when David Hussey collared Mohammad Sami.

When was the last time a team that lost 5 wickets for no runs in an over comfortably won a cricket match? That says a lot about how good this Australian team is. It also served as a sobering reminder that when such extraordinary events happen, we should sometimes dispense with our cynicism and appreciate the theatre and drama of sport for what it is. Watching that last over, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a bizarre but brilliant passage of play by Pakistan and an equally poor performance by Australia. Nothing more, nothing less. Just one of those things that can happen sometimes.

Very little else about Australia’s play was poor and Pakistan had little else to celebrate but for this single over. If the situation had been reversed, I wonder if there would have been the usual murmurings and suspicions about how Pakistan could possibly have lost five wickets for no runs in six balls. And that would have been most terribly unfair on Pakistan because as we’ve just seen, amazing things can happen sometimes without having to question the integrity of such events.

Like in Sydney a few months ago, Australia fought back brilliantly and Pakistan stumbled at the last hurdle to complete a memorable game of cricket. It was compelling cricket and Pakistan played their part in one of the most enjoyable Test matches in recent memory, only to have to defend themselves against some scurrilous suggestions that something was rotten in the camp. And sadly for Pakistan, they seem to unfairly have to put up with frequent innuendo of this nature, even when there is little evidence to point to anything but brilliant, poor, inspired, imaginative, freakish moments in a cricket match. It’s the beauty of the way they play cricket, richly talented, often unpredictable, capable of the brilliant and bizarre in the space of a few minutes. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved watching Pakistan play – you never quite know what to expect but you expect to be entertained, frustrated or bewitched at every twist and turn of the game. Sure, there have been some integrity issues with Pakistani cricket that have been well documented but we sometimes forget that just about every country has been implicated in the murky world of match-fixing and betting scandals.

Pakistan seem to be forever defending themselves against such accusations but that a roller-coaster ride is the very reason why they are such a watchable side. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched Pakistan chase a total and fall hopelessly behind the run rate, only to see the most amazing acceleration that defied the 40 overs that preceded it. Even this morning, despite feeling desperately sleepy and seeing Australia comfortably on top, I could not bring myself to switch off the TV in case Afridi, Misbah or Razzaq just exploded and pulled off a miracle. I only truly relaxed when Misbah was dismissed, despite the scoreboard willing me to call it quits and take an Aussie victory for granted.

There are not too many other sides in world cricket that make me that nervous, even when Australia are seemingly cruising towards victory. Perhaps South Africa with Boucher and Morkel still at the crease but theirs is a more clinical assault rather than the sheer unpredictability of a Pakistani cyclone. It’s Boom-boom or Bust! Whatever the criticisms of modern cricket, one cannot argue that it lacks for entertainment, sheer skill and firepower. I love watching Australia bat for that reason. I love watching Australia in the field for that reason. Even on their bad days, even when the eyelids are heavy from watching two consecutive games of cricket in the middle of the night and a warm bed is calling, when Pakistan are chasing down an impossible target, it’s easy to see why Bon Jovi said “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane