July 24, 2013

For the love of swagger

West Indies can be an unpredictable and volatile side. And Pakistanis love them for it

In Pakistan, we thoroughly enjoy locking horns with West Indies. Alongside India and England, they are our favourite opponents. We like to see cricketers who have style as well as swagger, whose approach to the game is at once nonchalant and keenly driven. We want to watch cricketers who smile easily and laugh with abandon, cricketers who - like us - carry an air of unpredictability and volatility. Yes, we do have our own team, and despite its ups and downs we love it to bits. But after Pakistan, we find it easiest to cheer for West Indies. Except when we happen to be on the receiving end, we always want to see West Indies win.

When our septuagenarian and octogenarian cricket fans narrate their choicest memories of visiting teams, they bring up images of Wes Hall walking back to his unimaginably long run-up, or Garry Sobers brandishing his incredible backlift. There is wistful talk of Lance Gibbs, Conrad Hunte, and Rohan Kanhai. Those were the players with truly effortless mastery over the game, we are told, players who knew how to play as well as to entertain. Australia, India, and New Zealand also visited Pakistan in the 1950s, but the cricketers whose visit gets most longingly recounted are the ones from the West Indies.

Nor is this reverence limited to the fans. When great cricketers such as Hanif Mohammad, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad reflect on their most satisfying matches, they go back to epic contests with West Indies.

It is often said that West Indies are to cricket what Brazil - with their flair, flamboyance and feats - have been to soccer. In Pakistan, we feel we have been in possession of some of the same flair and flamboyance. Perhaps not as much to be considered the Brazil of cricket, but certainly enough that it helps us identify with a team like West Indies far more than with those such as England, Australia, India or South Africa - better known for method and application.

Pakistanis who have been privileged to watch cricket at arenas around the world unanimously agree that the best place to enjoy the game live is in the West Indies. I'm not one of those lucky few, but even sitting in Pakistan and following on television, you can sense the heady atmosphere of West Indian grounds. There are people having a party even as others pay attention to the nuances of every delivery. There are fans cheering and dancing and letting their hair down, and others who stand berating, bemoaning and wailing in despair. Especially these days, when there is no international cricket in Pakistan, the urge to be transported into those West Indian throngs is intense and overpowering.

There may not be a particularly fleshed out rivalry between the two teams, but Pakistan's most evenly balanced record happens to be against West Indies. In 46 Tests against them, Pakistan have won 16 and lost 15; and in 125 ODIs, Pakistan have won 54 and lost 68 (in T20 cricket, the two sides have met only once so far). In both Tests and ODIs, Pakistan's win-loss ratios versus West Indies are closer to the parity figure of 1.00 than against any other team.

It is often said that West Indies are to cricket what Brazil - with their flair, flamboyance and feats - have been to soccer. In Pakistan, we feel we have been in possession of some of the same flair and flamboyance

Contests with West Indies have produced some of Pakistan's most dramatic and closest matches. Including last Friday's game in St Lucia, three Pakistan-West Indies ODIs have ended in a tie; no other pair of ODI teams has tied more often (Australia-West Indies and Australia-South Africa also have three ties each). Pakistan and West Indies have also played four ODIs decided by the narrow margin of one wicket, more than any other pair of opponents (and equalled only by the combination of England-West Indies).

There is also general agreement that Pakistan's toughest and most closely fought Test series have taken place against West Indies. During the latter 1980s, when Pakistan's golden era coincided with the historic West Indian peak of international success, the two teams played a three-Test series in Pakistan followed by a repeat in the West Indies, and drew each rubber 1-1. Legends populated the ranks of both teams - Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, and Courtney Walsh from West Indies; Imran, Miandad, Saleem Malik, Abdul Qadir, and Wasim Akram from Pakistan. Pakistani fans who followed them in real time remain intoxicated to this day by those unforgettable battles.

For two decades between 1973 and 1994, when Pakistan were an impenetrable fortress at home, West Indies were the only side to breach their defences and draw blood, securing a Test series victory in the winter of 1980. And between 1976 through 1994, West Indies convincingly won every Test series at home except the 1988 one against Pakistan, the only occasion during their heyday when a visiting side managed to grind out a draw. From those magical days of the 1980s, both teams have experienced a downward twist in fortunes since.

Although West Indies have won a Test series in Pakistan, Pakistan are still looking for their inaugural Test series win in the West Indies in five decades. It's a pity that the two Test matches originally included in the itinerary for Pakistan's current West Indian tour were scrapped; the fan base in Pakistan - and presumably in the West Indies - had greatly looked forward to them. The PCB and WICB are equally culpable in this disappointing turn of events.

Pakistan's ODI record in the West Indies is much better, with three series wins so far, and the welcome possibility of a fourth if things go Pakistan's way in the final ODI of this series. Despite inconsistent batting from both sides, it has turned out to be a highly absorbing series and that has at least partly compensated for the lack of Test cricket.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi. His latest book is Breath of Death, a medical thriller

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2013, 21:12 GMT

    I disagree with the comment that West Indies is the second most favored team by the Pakistanis when their team is out of a competition. Although, they might be an exciting match up to watch but that does not make them the second favored team. Sri Lanka in my opinion has always been the second favored team that would be most supported by Pakistan fans. They are close neighbors and have always done well in competitions and seem to play energized cricket that Pakistan fans always dream about from their players. They seem to be electric most of the times on the field and leave it out on the field, as oppose to Pakistan who's weakness has always been in the field. Not to forget the 1996 world cup when all of Pakistan took Sri Lanka to their first world cup title, a dream run and a tremendous team. A great treat for Pakistan that was when Ranatunga lead side dominated the Ausies in Lahore's Gadaffi Stadium!

  • Ali on July 25, 2013, 18:31 GMT

    Spot on Saad. The West Indian cricketers have a swagger and flair that is hard to match by any other team. I also wish that their cricket team could rise once again. We can have another "The Dark Knight Rises" :)

  • Bilal on July 25, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    WorldCup 87 Windies were staying at a hotel in lahore .. a man took his 7 year old to meet Pattrick Pattreson .. the son ran away crying much like Pakistan top order in those days ...... mudasser, mohsin were usually gone by the time the live transmission started... windies of 80s was just pure magic ... i am still not sure how dujon caught some of those catches... i remember the atrocious wait for miandad's hundred as he scrapped around for hours .and his defiance in bad light in Gujuranwala ... i remember tauseef's resistance with Imran in Karachi ... best were the heroics of Saleem Malik in Faisalabad ...stuff of dreams

  • Dummy4 on July 25, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    I remember the WI series when there was only Jim Khana ground in lahore, the team was captained by Kenhai and i saw the Bowlers like Ves Hall and Taylor and Ramadhin the spinner , that was the days of glory of WI cricket but we were not behind we have had Hanif and Aleem openers Wazeer Mohammed we were following WI cricket all the way through Radio Pak s commentry BY the legend Mr Qurashi, dear Saad you remind me about our golden era

  • Asad on July 25, 2013, 4:32 GMT

    Enjoyed reading it. Very well narrated. Grew up in Pakistan, therefore traveling to the caribbean islands to watch cricket is certainly quite enjoyable. Folks are very friendly and truly enjoy life and cricket in simple ways.

  • abdul on July 25, 2013, 2:20 GMT

    All of the matches in this recent series were delightful to watch. PCB and WICB shouldn't have cut down test matches. And i believe in the best interests of cricket, every test match series should be at least three test matches long irrespective of whether the broadcasters or sponsors like it or not.

  • ESPN on July 25, 2013, 0:21 GMT

    Well, Saad has artfully depicted the beauty of a whole era of exotic, nail-biting and glamorous cricket and players by simply comparing the two most unpredictable champs wrestling in their peaks. If you have lost your heart to cricket, those ecstatic days were no less than pace-makers setting the rhythm of your blood rush. Just to mention one example: Wasim, undoubtedly, finished the reign, if not career, of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, by his left-arm over the wicket in-swingers. And even his normal away-swingers were seemingly left alone even though both these openers were actually beaten by the genius Akram! One major major flaw with particularly Windies cricket in those times was their open one-sided Umpiring.. Wouldn't say more than that.. Lols!