The wonder and heartbreak of being a Pakistan fan
My phone beeped, it was an SMS from a friend who had grown skeptical of the Pakistan cricket team since the 1999 World Cup final debacle. "So are your chuckers gonna win?" It was the eve of the 2009 World Twenty20 final. And though he knew that the response he would get would be oozing with positive energy, hope and an incomprehensible delight for one of the most unpredictable teams across sports throughout history, he still wanted to know.
You see, after a long time, this team was showing some spine. It was re-generating interest even in the sceptics who had turned away.
Please understand, I would never doubt the love Pakistan fans have for their cricket team. Apart from the heartbreaks caused by genuine losses, they have suffered through the years courtesy match-fixing, ball-tampering allegations, a whole year without any Test matches, infighting within the team, politics within politics, questionable board chiefs, coups against captains, no cricket at home for three years, and even an investigation around the death of their coach.
For us Pakistan fans, abnormal is normal. The love that one has for their favourite sports team is different to any other kind of love. It's not bigger. It's just different, and probably brings with it a lot more sorrow than any other kind of love.
The beef that I have with most Pakistan cricket fans is their fickle belief in their team. One loss and it's all about how we should throw the whole team out because they sold out. One loss and half the team should retire. One loss and #BlameMisbah hash tags appear all across the Twitter world (Misbah has to hold the record for the most unappreciated, yet very successful, captain).
But then, with the rich history of betrayal that Pakistan cricket fans have witnessed, it's difficult to blame them for being so trigger-happy. On the flip side, that's where true love comes in and fickleness goes out.
I am a huge Lakers fan in basketball. The first game that I ever saw in the NBA was Game 4 of the NBA Finals in 1989, between Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons, with Lakers being down 3-0 in the best of seven series. I was 11 years old then and we were based in Singapore at the time. I had recently started playing basketball myself and upon seeing that match, I was completely hooked.
Needless to say, it was the worst match to begin following the Lakers. Magic Johnson was out injured and the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar was a shadow of his former self at the ripe old age of 41. This was to be Kareem's last game ever as well. So they lost, and I hadn't even seen Magic play yet, but I was already a fan of the game.
And so it went. I have seen the worst of times with the Lakers, when after the 1991 emergence of Michael Jordan and the retirement of Magic due to HIV, Lakers went on a downward spiral, even missing the playoffs in 1994. It would be nine years till they return to the Finals under the Zenmaster.
The bottom line is when you love a sports team, you love it with all the baggage it comes with. You don't just wait for them to lift the Cup. That is not the defining moment. The defining moments are spread out across time, when you go to sleep thinking what combination would have worked out best, when you try and find all the faults the referee made in the match your team lost, when you can't wait for the match to start, when you are willing to start an argument with every Tom, Dick and Harry who dares challenge your team's chances. Those are the moments that define you as a sports fan.
As my favourite sports writer, Bill Simmons, says, your love for your sports team is full of heartbreak, but what would love be without heartbreak. Your wife accuses you of not attaching any importance to anything else when "the match" comes on, your mood at dinner with guests after a big match will depend on the result, your friends curse you for spoiling an otherwise good plan because you don't want to leave the house, and the same friends all start supporting the opposing team when they are stuck watching the game with you, just to piss you off; that's when you know you are a goner.
The Pakistan cricket team presents the most confusing paradox for any sports fan. It's not a club team that you can choose to "unfollow" if they were as unfaithful as our team has been over the years. It's your national side. You just cannot ignore it. You want them to do well. You need them to do well. There is already so much despair and negativity around, that it's this bit of happiness that drives a nation wild.
We are a very unforgiving lot - sports fans not Pakistanis. Well, maybe both. We cannot accept defeat. We will never look for the silver lining. And that is what makes my job as that unrelenting fan that much more difficult. Because there is only so much you can argue about with the many people around you. You can't force others to be empathetic. You have to listen to all the know-it-alls who personally know the bookie who paid off some cricketer. You have to listen to the 'experts' who tell you how every move in the match was pre-planned. You fail miserably and continuously in explaining a particular innings or a certain bowling performance. (I mean, just the fact that I had to defend Saeed Ajmal's class as a bowler after the time Hussey took him to the cleaners in the semi-final of the 2010 World Twenty20 angered me). Through all of that you still have to find that passion that allows you to stand by the team you love.
The only unfortunate thing is that we live in a world of wicked needs and loose morals. Yet, when you see the team fight its way to a Twenty20 victory when defending 122 at the opponents home ground, when you see one of the greatest innings played by Inzamam-ul-Haq and yet have the team fall short by five runs when chasing 350, when you see this good-for-nothing team "brown-wash" the No. 1 Test team in the world, when you see the fight in the eyes of a Saeed Ajmal, the passion of a Younis Khan and the unrelenting charisma of a Shahid Afridi, your heart soars.