Green arrows, silver linings
Cricket in Pakistan is for the irrational and the passionate. It draws in believers who refuse to give up hope. It's for adrenaline junkies and masochists happy in their pursuit.
There's something daring about being a fan of this team. There is no logic to be applied, no predictability. You live for each day, placing blind faith in a team that breaks your heart and then makes you love again, keeping you hungry for more each time.
Over the last five years or so analysts have diligently emphasised the need for depth in the Pakistan line-up. They've referred to stats and brought up examples from the past. There is a general agreement among the experts that consistency is the cure for the team's ills.
I have watched too many matches where I have prayed that the team bat out the allotted overs. And we are all too familiar with the feeling of impending doom, no matter how many runs our opening pair has posted. Epic collapses, record-breaking lowest totals and final-over jitters have become a way of life. Logic does not explain many of these circumstances; there are no explanations for why a team that posted 250 in one game failed to chase 167 in the next.
The government, the PCB, and the squad: all are forever in a state of flux. It's time we embraced the fact that consistency is not in Pakistan's blood. We have world-class talent but simply fail to produce world-class performances consistently enough. It's time we focus on the silver linings.
Pakistan has time and again produced brilliant bowlers who make any target seem defendable. More so, the failure of our top-order batsmen has enhanced the batting skills of our tailenders. About four years ago, in a match against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi, Mohammad Amir and Saeed Ajmal added 103, the first time a No. 10 and No. 11 had added more than 100 in an ODI . The momentum shifted, commentators went hysterical, and the familiar craving crept back into the hearts of the fans. Few may remember the outcome but the partnership showed us that we are addicted.
There is no dearth of talent in Pakistan; any street cricketer can vouch for that. Perhaps inadequate training or lack of institutional interest has left us with only one leg to stand on. We are unlikely to be as strong a unit as South Africa. Umar Akmal will not be the dependable Kohli we seek. But we must focus on what we have: a strong allrounder in Hafeez, a resilient captain in Misbah, and a bowling line-up capable of getting even seasoned batsmen to quake in their boots. We have a young pace attack with Junaid Khan, the seven-foot tall Mohammad Irfan, and the experienced Umar Gul, capable of producing magic. Plus there's Ajmal's deceptive doosra.
When in college, I learnt that you don't have to be a Pakistani to be a fan of this team. I met South Africans and West Indians whose second-choice team - after their national side - was always Pakistan. They loved the side's unpredictability. They looked forward to swinging yorkers and doosras. They gawked at our batsmen's masterful domino-like collapses.
Watching Pakistan play is pure entertainment; they consistently ensure there is never a dull moment. We are not the best side in the world - clearly the ICC rankings are self-explanatory - but we are a team with heart. Our batsmen may not measure up to the likes of Gambhir and Gayle, but as long as Pakistan cricket produces the likes of Amir and Ajmal, the green arrows and saviours, they will remain a force to be reckoned with.
As a Pakistani, I would like less heartache and more celebration. The present team is a perfect mix of youth and experience. We have seen the potential of Nasir Jamshed and the stoic match-winning ability of Shoaib Malik. Yet we continue to expect mediocre performances from our batsmen and miracles from our bowlers. It is less about ability and more about results.
Ideally a team needs to have a solid balance. Batsmen should be able to post and chase big totals. But we are far from that reality. Umar Gul wins Man-of-the-Match awards for his cameos with the bat!
Despite all its flaws, our team has the ability to turn a cynic into a believer. This is a team that does not use logic, so perhaps the analysts and experts need not look for reasons for wins and losses.
Heading into the Champions Trophy, statistics, past performances, and rationale are likely to be dismissed. I'll applaud my bowlers. I'll pray for my batsmen. And on June 7, before their first match against West Indies, the realist, the optimist and the cricket lover will all become one.