The fan's torment
On Saturday, Liverpool, joint top of the English Premier League at the time, drew with Newcastle United. I logged onto Twitter midway through the second half and decided to go through tweets from the previous hour. It was, as the cliché goes, a fascinating rollercoaster of emotions from the Liverpool fans.
It started with uber-optimistic thoughts from a fan base that found their team top of the table when they weren't expecting it, but a single goal turned them into martyrs. The masochism that comes with following all but the best seven or eight teams in Europe was out in full flow. This is not a slight on Liverpool fans, even though it may look like it; it's the portrait of what a sports fan goes through when following his team. Twitter thus can become a record, a collection of minutes if you will, of the thought processes of the fans emotionally involved in the match at hand.
Last week Pakistan beat South Africa in a Test for the first time in six years. It was a supremely professional and competent performance - not unlike their previous outings in the UAE since 2010. Pakistan took control in the first session and never let up. It was almost Australian in how they never relinquished the initiative. Every South African comeback attempt was thwarted as if it was part of a whack-a-mole game.
Or so it seems on the scorecard.
To live through the match, one ball at a time, with 17-hour breaks in play was a rollercoaster. Cricket is a slow game anyway; it lends itself to thinking. And for all the negatives that Twitter might bring, it does bring a sense of community and shared experience, as evidenced by the Liverpool case.
Every step of the way, the pessimist inside every Pakistani was waiting to come out, with a reference or two, and drag his fellow fans down to the pit of worry with him. On day one, Pakistan's initial spurt looks like it would be undone by Duminy and Amla. It wasn't. On day two, we were reminded of how Pakistan had also won five of the first six sessions in Cape Town and managed to lose the match, and that this would be the same. It wasn't. On day three the list of times Pakistan had failed to capitalise in a Test match was offered, each time by someone who thought he was the first to think of it (he wasn't), only he had the courage to bring his fellow fans into the mindset of doom and gloom that wouldn't have been contagious in the days before Twitter.
It began with a reference to the draw in Abu Dhabi exactly two years earlier, when the match followed a rather similar script for the first two-and-a-bit days. This was followed by - as de Villiers and Robin Peterson fought back - references to Sydney in 2010, a match that in an earlier time would have been a suppressed memory rather than the constant evocation it has now become. And when Philander hung around with Peterson the sages took us to Faisalabad in 1997, and what should have been Pakistan's first series win against the Proteas. Finally, as Pakistan chased down a measly target with some initial difficulty, out came everyone proclaiming that they had never doubted this lot - after all, supporters, as the name suggests, are supposed to provide constant support.
Yet it's not like the fans exist in a world of constant pessimism. They crave for the moment when their team or sport is actually in a mess, so they can finally feel optimistic - a collection of modern-day Galeanos, searching for the pretty moves which they consider miracles. They rely heavily on these reserves of optimism. They know that Laxman, Inzamam and Waugh were exceptions; yet they cling to every situation - like Ravi Shastri impersonators telling themselves it's not over until the fat lady sings, whatever that actually means.
Case in point: rewind to a Test a month ago and you have Pakistan, with Misbah-ul-Haq and the tailenders at the crease, being egged on by an online world that continued to reference Inzamam's heroics against Bangladesh in 2003. Alas it wasn't to be, for Misbah is no Inzi. But like all unfulfilled miracles it will be swallowed by the sands of time - and the memories, as in life, will remain of the extreme highs and extreme lows and little else in between. Again, it's not like Pakistani fans are unique in this regard; it's a trait found in fans of teams that aren't super-dominant or are expecting to lose, particularly in sports fans who follow leisurely sports. In the case of Pakistani fans - and as of now, every one of cricket's national fan bases - this is precisely the situation.
Cricket being a slow game facilitates this. Considering that 90 overs are to be bowled in a day, and assuming that on any given delivery it takes ten seconds from when a bowler starts his run-up to when the ball gets to a fielder/boundary (a conservative estimate), then about 75% of the time is spent with the ball not in play. This is excluding breaks for lunch, tea and the 17-hour breaks between days.
Thus the cricket fan is left with a lot of idle time - mostly spent watching ads, replays and stats and listening to the irrelevant banter of the commentators, but also time to think. Which, of course, results in what we have today: a bipolar being who (in the words of Andy Zaltzman) is like a German vegetarian - he fears the worst, he remembers the collapses and the opportunities not grasped, and also remains the eternal optimist, convinced that there must be a way to make a comeback.
And then we wonder why normal folks consider us odd.
Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here