September 21, 2010

Saad Shafqat

The thing about Pakistan

Saad Shafqat
Umar Gul bowled Stuart Broad to seal the match for Pakistan and level the series, England v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Lord's, September 20, 2010
Umar Gul celebrates the winning wicket at Lord's  © Getty Images
Enlarge

Those of us used to lulling ourselves to sleep with thoughts of great Pakistani cricket feats have been having a hard time lately. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, a silken Mohammad Yousuf late cut between gully and point, a Mohammad Asif in-cutter through bat and pad, or a bludgeoned pull into the stands by Shahid Afridi – or, for the nostalgic-minded, Imran Khan merely turning at the top of his bowling mark, Javed Miandad doing little more than taking guard, or Wasim Akram simply flashing a smile – would have been enough to sink even the most resistant insomniac fan into gentle stupor and a blissful night’s sleep.

As of the last three weeks, these images have not been coming as readily to mind as they once did. In their place, thoughts of misguided fast bowlers delivering suspicious no-balls and sleazy bookies counting a tableful of money have invaded the senses. Not that the betting scandal has been something particularly unusual. After all, off-the-record talk of match-fixing and spot-fixing has been going on in Pakistan cricket for a while. And as far as crises go, for the last few years Pakistan cricket has been going through one monster turn of events after another.

But the August 29 newsflash was spiced with enough salacious detail to take over the conversation completely. Still, any storm is expected to die down after a few days, and by now you would have thought the headlines would move on to an expectant wait, as the ICC appoints a tribunal and fact-finding begins. But a scandal-mongering British tabloid press is refusing to let go, and the sleaze and muck just keeps coming.

In Pakistan, most of us have learned that the most effective means of redirecting a cricket conversation is to play hard and play well. This lesson may have been lost on PCB chairman Ijaz Butt, who keeps talking in public as if he is holding forth with cronies in a drawing room in Lahore, but the coach-captain combination of Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi, scarred veterans of multiple wars, knows it well.

Wounds were too fresh for any kind of fight back in the two-match Twenty20 series, but in the opening ODI in Durham the team walked out with purpose. That contest may have been lost by 24 runs, but it was clear that Pakistan had hit their stride. The next match at Headingley was stretched to the final over, but it was a 320-330 pitch and a target of 295 for a formidable English side led by an in-form Andrew Strauss was never going to be enough. Then came the victory at The Oval, one of Pakistan’s most reliable hunting grounds, and with it dreams of a victory to follow at Lord’s, and a decider at the Rose Bowl.

I’ll be honest. When the boundaries were coming thick and fast for Andrew Strauss and Steve Davies as they chased down 266 with a century opening stand last night, I had given up. Several other comrades, judging by the despondency of their text messages, had given up too. It was approaching midnight in Pakistan and a warm bed seemed far more inviting than fuming and stewing in frustration.

Then a wicket fell, and another. Sleep vanished. The ball began to reverse, boundaries dried up, and text messages began flying furiously. Eventually, Eoin Morgan stood between Pakistan and victory. Afridi had already dropped him, and this “little Irish genius” – as Osman Samiuddin described him in an urgent missive – was determined to cash in.

When Morgan top edged Shoaib Akhtar, I switched my television off. The ball rose alarmingly into the night sky, triggering a long-hidden reflex in my right thumb, which clamped down on the clicker. Even in the best of times, the idea of Pakistani fielders catching a skier is riddled with anxiety. On this occasion, it unleashed sheer panic.

After a few seconds, I turned the TV back on, but muted the sound and shielded my eyes from the screen. Holding my breath, I moved my hand just enough to allow a peek at the score line. From 211 for 7, it had changed to 211 for 8. Morgan was walking back and England were as good as gone. I realised I hadn’t indulged in these antics for many years, not since I was 15, which was thirty years ago.

That’s the deal with Pakistan. It may be a team that from time to time punches its fans in the stomach and kicks them in the face, but it is also a team that even in middle-age can make you feel like a teenager once again. Take that, forces of evil, whoever you are, wherever you are.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

RSS Feeds: Saad Shafqat

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Shujaat Ali on (November 6, 2010, 15:48 GMT)

This is an article i will forever quote.....brilliant and absolutely stunning. These are the words each and every die hard Pakistani fan wants to say to those who belittle our achievements.

Posted by tariq saeed on (September 25, 2010, 8:07 GMT)

the UK runs on commerce not on heavy industry, unfortunately. the survival of the trash part of uk media is part of the commerce industry and thrives on the ill based imagination of the masses in this country. sadly for the sake of the UK economy, we have to live with this disease. the betting scandal is an anabolic steroid injection for the trash part of UK media.

Posted by Anonymous on (September 25, 2010, 4:54 GMT)

Posted by: Steve at September 22, 2010 12:33 PM

Waterbuffalo wrote: "I do not understand how you can charge Pakistan for match -fixing in games that they won?"

The Pakistani team is not being accused of match fixing, certain players are being accused of fixing events within a game, for example bowling a no ball at a certain time. The bowling of a no ball is unlikely to affect the final outcome of the match but it is very useful information to someone betting on the fact that it will be bowled.

And when england loses 5-17, and loses 2 games in a row that does not seem suspicious to you? what's good for the goose is good for the gander my friend. Where is is the sting operation on the England team? I'd like to know? When the spot fixing 'scandal' was exposed I was very disappointed, because Asif and aamir are great bowlers, but the more I thought about it, the more I could see the hypocrisy, none of the English players are charged, you could lose 6-0 and yet you are all innocent.

Posted by Fraz on (September 24, 2010, 16:40 GMT)

If they lose a match, its match fixing and if they win, its match fixing too. If the ball do not work for them, its because they intentionally do not make it to do and If they reverse swing the ball and thrash opposition batting, its ball tampering. If a catch is dropped by them then there must be something fishy behind it, but if an easy catch is put down by opposition then thats just part of the play. If umpire do not give away a clear cut lbw, or give an lbw decision when there is a big edge before ball hits batsman's pads or call a legal delivery a no ball or a ball that clearly flicked batsman's thigh as a wide ball then thats just a human error. I mean wtf has happened to this British media and people who are blindly supporting it by simply overlooking other things. Looks like they are on a campaign to hurt Pakistan cricket in any way they can either right or wrong. It feels like it is not a game of cricket, instead a cold political war.

Posted by zia bhat on (September 24, 2010, 12:56 GMT)

wow, cant describe how happy i was reading this article...............the best article......

Posted by hammad on (September 24, 2010, 11:05 GMT)

well said.Dnt what is the matter with english media.before all this i used to think that only our media is immature and infant.

Posted by tariq saeed on (September 24, 2010, 10:35 GMT)

pakistan is the most exciting and talented team in the world. through the years, the most exciting players have emerged from pakistan. i have yet to see a player more stylish than zaheer abbas; a more innovative batsman than miandad; a greater leader than imran; a better left arm fast bowler than wasim; a more robust character than shoaib akhtar; just to remind that the man who revived the art of leg spin bowling( a dying art at that time) was qadir; and who can forget the graceful majid khan, probably the best player of fast bowling; the only player who used to read warne completely was salim malik. the list is endless. all pakistan needs is a sound leader, some sanity in the administration and luck. is that too much too ask?

Posted by tariq saeed on (September 24, 2010, 10:33 GMT)

pakistan is the most exciting and talented team in the world. through the years, the most exciting players have emerged from pakistan. i have yet to see a player more stylish than zaheer abbas; a more innovative batsman than miandad; a greater leader than imran; a better left arm fast bowler than wasim; a more robust character than shoaib akhtar; just to remind that the man who revived the art of leg spin bowling( a dying art at that time) was qadir; and who can forget the graceful majid khan, probably the best player of fast bowling; the only player who used to read warne completely was salim malik. the list is endless. all pakistan needs is a sound leader, some sanity in the administration and luck. is that too much too ask?

Posted by Waqqas Hussain on (September 24, 2010, 9:34 GMT)

Excellent Excellent Article............... and Well Played English Team, English Umpires and English Media !!! Team Pakistan Better Luck next time.............. AS far as reverse swing is concered ...."ITS AN ART WHEN DONE in ASHES and BALL TEMPORING WHEN WE(PAKI) DO IT"

Posted by shah zaib khan on (September 24, 2010, 7:46 GMT)

as a pakistani and as a true lover of my cricket team i have to say one thing to those who posts there comments specialy to pakistani fans please don't blame the world this is our system of our cricket board wich creates aal the bed things for our team we have honest peaple like younas khan but he is out of the side rashid lateef aamir suhail and rameez raja guys like them to be in the criket board but unfortunately they are not we want a strong system but unfortunately guys like aijaz but is the head of our cricket who dont know any thing about criket and i must say thanks to england because englang board give pakistan there grounds for Pakistan's home series aijaz but is a sick old man and he effects our relations with england cricket board if aamir aasif and but is really don the spot fixing no one will save them and if they are not guilty god will save them we need honest and good people in our cricket board

Comments have now been closed for this article