This, that and the other. Mostly the other
Pakistanis love Saeed Ajmal. This statement seems obvious, but, as in every other use of the word "love", there's a lot more to it. I mean, love, my word, it's the root of all sorts of things. Compassion, jealousy, joy, pain, sacrifice, positive pregnancy tests. All very different destinies, you'll agree, apart from the last three.
The love for Ajmal is a cloudless affair. A holiday romance in the south of France, sans paparazzi zoom lenses. He wins matches, he smiles, he wins more matches, he smiles again - and Pakistan smiles so wide that Afghanistan and India threaten war for incursions into their land.
Naturally, much of the Ajmal-love stems from his professional brilliance. He is the best bowler in the world and fascinating to observe. But just as important: he's a lovely guy.
Pakistanis have loved many cricketers, but the charisma of these superstars has often come with a bit of arrogance, narcissism and dodgy dealing. It is rare for Pakistanis to have a bowling hero they would love to invite round for dinner - and not have to worry he'd try to seduce the wife.
The affection, then, is like that towards a younger brother, the favourite son of the family. The English reacted to Graeme Swann's similarly baffling exclusion from the ICC Cricketer of the Year shortlist a couple of years ago with a sense of injured fair play. For Pakistanis, it was closer to the bone. It was as if our kid, Ajmal, had been slapped by the headmaster in the playground. How could you do such a thing? Saeed's such a nice boy. Set off the stink bombs!
One wonders, though, if Ajmal's snub is actually good for Pakistan. The team often thrives as a pariah. For Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson has built a champion side over two decades by instilling in his players a siege mentality. It's them against the world (irrespective, it seems, of their status as the world's most valuable club, and a fan base stretching from Mexico to Macau). It works, though Pakistan would hope for United's success rather than the being like similarly isolationist Millwall FC. (Their anthem "No One Likes Us, We Don't Care" would carry more weight if they'd won anything since the Football League Group Cup in 1983.)
Controversy is Pakistan's meat and drink; the team feeds on it. The last few scandal-less months have been rather unsettling. It's a far cry from the hell-raising times when there were coups against Younis Khan and episodes of ball-biting tension. Other teams take the rough with the smooth but Pakistan takes the rough with the rougher, until, inevitably, there are diamonds in the rough. Cue amazing series wins, trophies, and players of exquisite genius.
Ajmal has been outstanding over the last year or two. Remarkably, in this age of super slow-mos, he is yet to be "figured out". Dressing him in a suit, handing him a shiny stick with a ball on top, making him smile for the cameras, having him answer questions in his hilarious English-speaking style while opposition players laugh, and thus relax, is the last thing Pakistanis would want. Keep the mystery, I say. Speaking of Manchester United, David Beckham lost half his aura the first time he opened his mouth.
Many top cricket pundits have admirably argued why Ajmal's snub was mind-boggling in terms of stats. But boiling Ajmal down to numbers is like reading academic literary criticism of your favourite book.
Writers provide good examples of how losing out on awards can be a boon. Some of the greatest missed out on the Nobel Prize. Most glaringly: Nabokov, he of Lolita; Greene, he of The Heart of the Matter; Akhtar, he of Controversially Yours. Being cast-outs has only enhanced their stature. Similarly, the Oscars died that day in 1994 when they gave Best Picture to Forrest Gump over The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Anyone found watching Gump today is sent to prison, shouted at in a biblical manner, and measured for a coffin.
Plus, there are wider, positive knock-on effects to Ajmal's snub. As Saad Shafqat has pointed out, the voting process was handled by a management consulting firm. This will further damage Mitt Romney, who cut his shiny white teeth in that shady profession for Bain & Company. Cricket being a loose, liberal sport, most of you readers are rooting for Barack Obama. Saeed Ajmal, once again, is being the change.
The PCB has also come out well. Well done to them for attending the ICC ceremony over the weekend but still registering a small protest: senior board officials did not make the trip from Lahore to Sri Lanka. Anyone with any working knowledge of Pakistani bureaucracy knows that such senior officials would have been undertaking seriously junior activities. That some stuffy, nepotistically favoured officials missed out on hitting Colombo's dance clubs on Saturday night is a pleasing silver lining to this cloudy affair.
Back to the cricket, then, and watching a marvellous bowler, and living in late September as if it's a bright sunny day in May.
Imran Yusuf is a writer based in Karachi. He tweets here
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