A deeply stirring spectacle
One-day wins aren't supposed to mean this much are they? Or even engage as emotionally as this? Certainly not piddling opening round games of tournaments. But if Australia were watching proceedings at Jaipur tonight, players such as Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds might have smiled to themselves knowingly and thought, "Ah yes, but they often do".
Over three years ago, on the eve of their opening match against Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup, Australia lost Shane Warne, the muse of their 1999 triumph, to a drugs ban. They were four down for not much early on before turning on Symonds's own redemption innings and winning comfortably. Pakistan did something similar here and they might have done so with greater odds stacked against them.
Between their last international and this one, they had seen three changes in the team leadership and one in that of the board. A tour of England, disastrous on and ultimately off the field, was only just past. Bereft of their regular captain and leading batsman, losing two of their best bowlers on the eve of this match, in such dramatic fashion, running into a red-hot Sri Lankan side, careening head first into a bloodthirsty Sanath Jayasuriya; they needed all this like you and I would need a hole in the head.
And yet, here we are. Many people will be genuinely dumbfounded. Others will coolly claim they were expecting Pakistan to pull off something as audacious as this precisely because of the turmoil that has hounded them. It is, they claim, just what they do. But inside even they will have been surprised, if only because the extreme turbulence of the last couple of months was exacting even by Pakistani standards.
The nuts and bolts of this win are not, ultimately, as significant as the result itself though they are worth recalling. Coincidentally (or otherwise), as was the case through last year, when Shoaib Akhtar was out with injury and Mohammad Asif plying away for Sialkot and Pakistan A, many contributions stood out. Feel free to choose your own critical one; Abdul Razzaq's late bursts with ball first and then bat, Pakistan's trio of spinners (not quite the golden Indian quartet but you can imagine them being successful in an ODI-kind of way here), Imran Farhat's chancy surge as Pakistan began their reply or even Mohammad Yousuf's composure for all but the 78th ball of his innings.
Personally, I'll jump for Shoaib Malik's masterpiece of pace, intelligence and nerve. He's had a rough few months himself, hopelessly out of form and shuffled out of his favourite position up the order by Younis Khan. He began his innings as if acutely aware of all this so that when Yousuf was out, he had meandered uncertainly to only 13 off 29 balls. But as he has shown repeatedly, the nuances and delicacies in timing a pressure chase in these conditions are not lost upon him. He only hit two boundaries but the sweetest - a six off Murali to bring up the 200 - was the moment when a win became tangible. Surreptitiously, an itchy start turned into a hustled finish.
All put together, it made for a deeply stirring spectacle, one that tugged away at the very soul of those watching it. There is something just so incredibly attractive about watching triumph in adversity, and nothing captures it better in life than sport. It is the type of allure that draws in support from neutrals irrespective of nationality. That the match was tense will have relieved many in a tournament lacking atmosphere thus far but that Pakistan won it will please many more. The air over Pakistan cricket has been lately funereal and the support feels like that reserved for the bereaved.
As a footnote really, they have started the tournament with a win. Not much should be said about their chances for the rest of the tournament, though the bubble of feelgood within which they were floating on the field - to Younis Khan's eternal credit - will be duly noted by South Africa and New Zealand. For the next few, precious days, they can rest easy, having reminded a whole lot of people - and it really needed reminding - that despite being eternally good value for drama in cricket, when they want to, they play one hell of a game too.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo