World Cup 2011 March 24, 2011

The joy of discipline

Load shedding has been put on hold -- for a day. Pakistan simply won a World Cup quarter-final, what's the fuss?

"Keep your feet on the ground," pleads Imran Khan, "we haven't won anything yet." Celebratory gunshots are ringing out across Pakistan, fireworks and firecrackers are exploding into the night air. Load shedding has been put on hold -- for a day. Pakistan simply won a World Cup quarter-final, what's the fuss?

Cricket has a special power in South Asia. We see it in the exuberance of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, in the passion of Indians and Pakistanis. Cricket, a mere sport, has the magic ingredients to make hundreds of millions of people happy, bring a little joy to harsh and unforgiving lives, unite rich and poor, and rip asunder the walls between castes and religions.

And so it is in Pakistan, and among Pakistan fans, that the illness of expectant hysteria has taken hold. A World Cup win is elevated from possibility to formality. Shahid Afridi, the 'Idiot' King, reincarnated as a lightning rod for two hundred million expectant hearts, a captain of ambitions; Pakistan's downward spiral of gloom broken by the uplifting derring-do of Afridi and his foreign legion.

Pakistan are fortunate that West Indies proved such inept defenders against spin. But that was the extent of any luck. Afridi's team played with impeccable discipline, each bowler adhering strictly to a wicket-to-wicket line. When Umar Gul, whose accuracy is almost laser guided, offered Australia a little width, Afridi was straight at him, making a narrow tramline gesture with his hands. No need for Afridi's strictures at Mirpur, all bowlers were slaves to disciplined lines, and West Indies wilted against such relentless pummeling.

Perhaps DRS has changed the dynamics of this sport? Perhaps Pakistan are back to trusting hitting stumps and pads ahead of fielders clinging on to schoolboy chances? Perhaps the timeless virtue of bowling straight has come as a shock to modern batsmen? Whatever the reason, Pakistan's bowlers are executing their plans to precision, a blip against New Zealand excepted.

This country has always produced wicket-takers, wizards of speed, guile, and movement, but rarely in recent times have those mesmeric talents pulled together in harmony or applied discipline to their art. Banished from hosting this World Cup or any international cricket, purged of demon spirits, the Pakistan of Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi have discovered harmony and discipline especially in their bowling. It has been a thrill to watch, a horror to face.

Surprised by such excellence, no wonder Imran's pleas to keep our feet on the ground are difficult to heed. Indeed, nothing has been won yet except the battles to convert us from cynics to believers and return a sense of joy to Pakistan cricket. But these are no small triumphs.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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