Pakistan's Game of Thrones characters
It can be a bit taxing to write about your team/sport during the off season, and with Pakistani players needing to be retired/dual citizens/South Africans to be involved in the IPL, there is little for Pakistani cricket fans to talk about. (There are the PCB's changes and the change of coach, but those are not much fun.)
So when I was grappling for an idea for this post, my friend and Pace is Pace Yaar founder Shoaib Naveed suggested I compare Pakistani cricketers with characters from the hit TV series Game of Thrones. Now before I begin, there will be spoilers here related to the show, so please beware.
When I began thinking about this, the first connection that jumped to my mind centred around a recent twist in the show where the character Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, was revealed to have been even more deceptive that any of us had imagined. The shock I felt then was quite similar to the one I felt a few months ago when I realised Shoaib Malik had somehow managed to find himself in the national team again. Like Littlefinger, Malik uses his boyish looks and sharp tongue to land himself in positions of power his pedigree does not deserve.
Littlefinger was also responsible for the betrayal and death of the beloved Ned Stark, and while Shoaib probably wasn't responsible for Younis Khan's downfall, there can be no other cricketer more like the Stark patriarch. Beloved, noble and wise, Ned and MYK are the fathers everyone wishes they had, and yet it is their almost foolish devotion to their principles that ultimately gets them cut down. Just like Stark was dead soon after rising to the position of Hand of the King, Younis was out of the captaincy mere months after leading Pakistan to only their second global title.
Continuing with the Starks, Ned's son Robb is the closest version of Pakistani omnistar Shahid Afridi. Like Lala, Robb is full of rugged gorgeousness, has an aura of being forever young, and is at his best when he's swinging his blade, winning battle after battle where he leads the destruction from the front. However, both Kings of the North weren't great at planning for the future, and the one time Robb actually has to slow down and consolidate, it ends in a catastrophe. Fans of Lala, after all, have experienced many Red Weddings.
It is a blessing that the title of Pakistan's captain/most beloved cricketer is not as keenly contested as the War of Five Kings, but while Stannis Baratheon never really got close to the Iron Throne, Misbah ul-Haq has remained safe on his. This is not a perfect analogy, since Misbah has never been known to be a reluctant believer in the occult. However, who else do you think of when the dour and resolute Stannis leads from the absolute front in the Battle of Blackwater Bay, only to find that the rest of his army has fallen apart?
One person missing from action at that battle was Jaime Lannister, who was in captivity at the time. In fact Jaime, whose talent is only matched by his charisma and good looks, has spent his entire career with the whiff of "what could have been" hanging around him. After all, he seems to have not fulfilled his potential because he has either been injured, arrested, or on the run. When it comes to Pakistan, the analogy is quite obvious - Shoaib Akhtar has been just as wide a target for love, lust and hate as Jaime has, and both are forever capable of electric moments and inevitable disappointments.
Much like Pakistanis, the people of Westeros have a tendency to mistrust others because of their physical appearance. Despite being phenomenally talented and intelligent, both Tyrion "the Imp" Lannister and Fawad "the Hope" Alam are forever battling the prejudice that people hold against their physical appearance. Tyrion is clearly the ablest successor to his Zeus-like father, yet he is condemned for being a dwarf. Similarly, Fawad is the missing link our team has cried out for, but he isn't picked because people think he can't clear the ropes. The fate of both is a reminder of how cruel and foolish this world is.
Speaking of cruel, there was only one player I could think of when I thought of Lord Walder Frey, a rather despicable person whose power resides in the fact that his lands are of immense strategic importance, and who delivers one of the show's most stunning betrayals. His Pakistani equivalent has a normal personal life but is similarly powerful in that he seems to be the only option for the team's most unique and specialised position. And just like Frey, Kamran Akmal has been responsible for some of the most stunning heartbreaks Pakistani fandom has ever experienced.
There were two players for whom I identified the same character, and eventually decided that they both deserved to be symbolised by her. Daenerys Targaryen, aka the Mother of Dragons, is a young, brave, beautiful and foolhardy conqueror whose strength comes from her access to next-gen weaponry (dragons). However, despite her considerable threat, she is still fighting her battles across the Narrow Sea, and her promise has yet to arrive at Westeros. Similarly, Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal, aka the Lords of House Selfie, are brave and handsome men who play shots from the future. Unfortunately, all three have been playing for (about) four years and have yet to make their presence felt in the Game of Thrones directly. Let's hope it happens soon.
I was going to end this piece here when a final epiphany struck me. Lord Varys is not a nobleman - and among bigoted Westerosi, not even a man - yet he has remained in the King's Council for as long as anyone can remember. He has been there through the triumphs and the disasters. And if there is one chubby, bald person who seems to have forever been present "managing" the team during World Cup wins and through allegations of mental retardation, then it is none other than Intikhab Alam.
Ahmer Naqvi is a journalist, writer and teacher. He writes on cricket for various publications, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here