ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v Pakistan, 2nd semi-final, World Cup 2011, Mohali

The joy of cricket

ESPNcricinfo's senior editor says the Pakistan team is a reminder that cricket has room for diverse kinds, that it's all about fun

Sharda Ugra in Mohali

March 29, 2011

Comments: 134 | Text size: A | A

Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq sprint during a warm-up session, Mohali, March 28, 2011
Crisis? What crisis? Let's keep marching ahead © AFP
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Until Ahmedabad, Pakistan has played this World Cup in the corner of India's eye. They were ghosts in their own neighbourhood. They were not Bangladesh, who could welcome the world, radiate optimism and soak the Cup with tears and laughter. They were not Sri Lanka, who went about their business efficiently, putting their strengths on display and keeping weaknesses hidden through six tiring weeks. Comparisons with India here are unadvisable because that makes fans go mental. A day before a World Cup semi-final, there's enough of that going around, anyway.

Pakistan were the outsiders at this World Cup. Not 'outside' favourites because no one in cricket ever counts them out. But on the outside because in their last four years, news around their cricket has pushed them to the fringes of utter collapse. The death of Bob Woolmer during the 2007 World Cup was followed by a year of no Tests at all in 2008 which was followed by Lahore which was followed by Sydney which was followed by the spot-fixing scandal.

Yet, at the pointy end of the World Cup, here they are, in a semi-final, versus India, in Mohali, their captain grinning and poking the media in its eye, their team gambolling about the field during practice, acrobatic catches, direct hits and all. Woolmer, Lahore, Sydney, Salman Butt and then these guys. It doesn't add up, it doesn't make sense. Yet with Pakistan, intriguingly, maddeningly, astonishingly, it somehow does.

This was South Asia's World Cup, okay. So never mind playing zero games at home, never mind national politics and international condemnation, Pakistan were damned if they were going to be left out of it.

No whining, no lamentation, let's just play.

No being victims, no being delusional, never mind our Board, and (may God bless the father of neutral umpiring Imran) our domestic structure. Let's just play.

There's got to be some ICC award that should be given out for Shahid Afridi and his men but not as a patronising pat on the head for being "survivors" or being "resilient". But for proving in a World Cup what cricket eventually is about - bat and ball, runs and wickets, instinct and guts.

A team thought of and categorised as unpredictable and illogical (and many other horrible things from the past which the current cricketers wear like ankle weights) Pakistan's cricket on the field is actually very fundamental. It is why they do what they do. All those theories about 'living in the moment', about 'switching on' for cricket and 'detaching' themselves from the uncontrollables. Pakistan shows every cricketer in the world how it can actually be done. They win some and they lose a few but always they play like millions of kids do on the street - full on. When they go down, they go down in flames. When they do well, they can set the world on fire.

How can you not want to watch? Or keep watching?

Amidst all the horrors from 2007, there stand the cricketing facts, the hard results. This is what the Pakistanis have done in the short game since the last World Cup: In the three World Twenty20s from 2007, they have won one, made the finals in another, and semi-finals in the third. They were semi-finalists of the 2009 Champions Trophy. After the spot-fixing scandal in England last summer, in a five-match ODI series they turned a 0-2 deficit to an eventual 2-3 defeat. They went toe to toe against the South Africans in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, also losing only in the deciding ODI. Before the World Cup, they won an ODI series in New Zealand (not to mention a Test series).

Pakistan have always been a bums-on-seats, eyes-on-TV screen kind of team. They have also always been an alternative Dream Team, particularly for journalists, because of the news they can generate without even stepping on the field. But, that is not why they are so compelling. In the 2003 World Cup, they were called the "Brazil of cricket." It was a beguiling enough description which eventually didn't seem to add up. It wasn't referring to the number of World Cups won because then, Pakistan had one, and had made it to another final. Surely Brazil's football couldn't match Pakistan's stories of inner conflict and revolving-door captaincies. The only comparable element then had to be skill.

If India's batting can be thing of beauty, Pakistan and its bowling is a moving, ever growing piece of pop art. In its history, Pakistan has always encouraged the maverick, both in personality and cricketing technique, but with only one common feature generation after generation: the ability to win matches. It is this presence, particularly amongst the bowlers, that made Pakistan the first Asian team capable of doing well in overseas conditions. It is why they put up with mavericks. Were Sreesanth Pakistani, there is a very good chance that disciplinary issues or not, he would have played a lot more frequently. There would have been dramas, but there probably would have been more wickets too.

In a world now dominated by jargon of 'good areas' and 'process', Pakistan are cricket's doers and not its thinkers. Half-measures are rare. They may do good or they may do far from good (and that's only talking about their cricket) but this is a team with less theory, more action, which in itself is a mighty relief. The glass is never half-anything with Pakistan. It's either empty or full.

Shahid Afridi now leads because he is one of those doers - of something, anything, these days more good than bad. He is Pakistan's leading ODI wicket taker since January 2008, with 101 wickets in 70 ODIs, all this with antics that make match referees mad. To see and hear Waqar Younis, bespectacled, leaning towards a forty-something 'prosperity', run Pakistan's nets is to appreciate that men can be taught how to march through mud. Is there any other team in this competition that could have reached the semi-final of this World Cup, at the end of a long and traumatic season, without its two strike bowlers?

When Pakistan play cricket, they remind all of us who watch it, of a few things. That the game can have room for diverse kinds. That enormous and frequent reversals, whether in an over, an innings, a match, a season is actually part of an organic whole. And that eventually, cricket is meant to be about fun. Let's just play.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN EMEA Ltd.

Comments: 134 
Posted by SRT_GENIUS on (March 30, 2011, 21:04 GMT)

@Omi Transparent : (my reply is after the match): If Misbah was Pakistani he wouldn't be in top 500, eh ? @whoker: Ugra *IS* a layman with a way with words.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 8:26 GMT)

The writer is right............ sreesanth wud have been playing in the pakistani 11 because he has the aggression of wasim, waqar, shoaib and gul.............. nd under the coaching of waqar younis and aqib javed he wud have become one of the most fierce bowlers of the world cup!

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 7:00 GMT)

@naryan, if ashish nehra was pakistani he would not be in top 5000, if youvraj was pakistani he would not be in top 2000 if Harbajan singh was pakistani he would not be in top 1000 and if Zaheer khan was pakistani he would not be in top 500, come on guys grow up !!! stop day dreaming........face the reality and reality is the Pakistan is gona win semifinal and final of world cup 2011.

Posted by   on (March 30, 2011, 6:57 GMT)

Nice article Ugra.. the picture in which Afridi has put his arm on Dhoni's shoulder and shakes his hand, Dhoni looks just a bit reluctant.

Posted by haveadnan on (March 30, 2011, 6:33 GMT)

i think just for a quick comparison Pakistan's cricket is like a live match in which you don't know what is going to happen on very next ball which makes things exciting where as India's cricket is some what like highlights in which you already have some idea that ok this is going to happen

Posted by MoeSid on (March 30, 2011, 5:23 GMT)

that made me giggle like a giddy school girl if shreeshaant was pakistani

i would prefer the other players though if yuvraj,tendulker, ghambir, sehwag and heck even parthiv patel be in for our batsmen i would've be dammed had pakistan not have more world cups titles under their belt

Posted by CricEshwar on (March 30, 2011, 4:45 GMT)

This was the first article I liked from this author and I loved it.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 30, 2011, 4:36 GMT)

Pakistan have been one of the most exciting and unpredictable teams in the history of Cricket and are spectacular when fighting against the odds.They have had a continuous run sof ebband flows but at their best remind you of the fury of a tiger chasing his prey.Few teams posessed greater match winning killer instinct and agression combined with artistry in both in batting and bowling.In the Mohali game they may well rise to the hour.

Posted by mahacricket on (March 30, 2011, 3:55 GMT)

nicely written, had me thinking neutral !! For a few moments, though! :)

Posted by whoker on (March 30, 2011, 3:49 GMT)

There is no denying that Ms Ugra is a decent writer. But, I fail to understand what the fuss is all about regarding this article, which I see as one of her poorer works. Apart from the novelty of an Indian writer singing Pakistan's praises, this is just a shallow, superficial take on Pakistan's cricket, lacking any substance whatsoever!! I, for one am perplexed by some of the phrases like the following:

"No being victims, no being delusional, never mind our Board, and (may God bless the father of neutral umpiring Imran) our domestic structure. Let's just play."

"Shahid Afridi now leads because he is one of those doers - of something, anything, these days more good than bad." - this would be more like a layman's view of the bleeding obvious!

"That enormous and frequent reversals, whether in an over, an innings, a match, a season is actually part of an organic whole" - Is being 'organic' part of the journalistic 'process' these days??!!

Are these even grammatically correct?:))

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