Thriving on adversity
On the day Pakistan landed in India for the Champions Trophy, in Delhi on October 8, Younis Khan and Bob Woolmer addressed the media. In the previous 24 hours, the country's cricket captaincy had been changed twice and the chairman had changed once and one would have expected them to be discussing serious matters before the press conference took place. For most of it, the two communicated by scribbling messages on a piece of paper but don't be fooled into thinking they were matters of national interest. It was simply a discussion about whether to grant a television channel an interview.
On the day before Pakistan's opening encounter of the Champions Trophy, in Jaipur yesterday, the same duo addressed the media. In the previous 24 hours, the team's two premier fast bowlers had failed dope tests, nobody knew what the future held in store and one would have, again, expected them to be discussing serious matters before addressing the press. Before they began the press conference, both - coughing intermittently - communicated some thoughts in hushed tones. Surely this time it was serious. Instead they were trying to out-guess each other on the number of questions that were likely to be posed. One of them said 60; the other reckoned it would be 70.
These may appear insignificant incidents but they convey quite a bit about how this bunch managed to stay cool when the roof had blown off. Over the last week, of the seven teams that visited Jaipur, it's been Pakistan who have, ironically, appeared most relaxed. People spotted them in restaurants, movie halls and tourist sites. It was a side that appeared to be thoroughly at home with their surroundings, thriving amid the fans and banter.
Younis spoke passionately about the period, adding that it had no doubt helped alleviate the pressure. "We've had a lot of fun over the last week," he said at the end of a thoroughly satisfactory day. "We played hard cricket, practised hard and had some competitive games amongst ourselves. What I couldn't do as a youngster, I wanted my boys to do. I encouraged them to see movies, to have fun. We missed Inzamam a lot and spoke a lot about him, about his captaincy and his professionalism. But we wanted to forget the pressures. One day before the game we got another jolt but I always felt the boys were fit and wanted to play good cricket. For me, before this game, winning or losing wasn't important, all I wanted them to do was to play good cricket. And we did."
And good cricket they played. A packed house of neutrals rejoiced in Pakistan's fightback with the ball before cheering every run in their run-chase. Their very unpredictability, their sheer bloody-minded bounce-back ability, was a joy to watch. Just when the tension reached the highpoint, they found in Abdul Razzaq a matchwinner who sliced through it like a Rajasthani sword through silk. The standing ovation they granted Pakistan after the triumph was in direct contrast to the afternoon's events when the Shiv Saniks, a Hindu fundamentalist organisation, held banners asking Pakistan to 'Go home'.
Younis Khan didn't make much of a contribution with the bat but his cool countenance no doubt proved crucial. "There was definitely a bit of pressure," he said, "but I don't normally put myself under pressure. Of course, if we'd lost people would have got a chance to say things against us. But the boys stood together, even though they were under pressure. I was asked at the toss if I'd slept OK and honestly I slept very well. Whatever pressure was there, it didn't affect my sleep."
Over the last few years, Inzamam-ul-Haq's monk-like cool, with an emphasis on religion, has played a vital part in keeping the side together. It came as no surprise when the side got together for a namaaz after the game, thanking the God almighty for this fine win. Younis mentioned the importance of faith, he added that their religious beliefs always kept them strong. He didn't mention it but sometimes you wonder what this team would do if controversies decide to take a back seat. The more the trouble, more the joy.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo