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Dileep Premachandran looks at the enormity of Pakistan's Twenty20 triumph, and how much it means to the country during troubled times
June 21, 2009
This is no Cinderella story. This is about the ugly sister who woke up to find that she had a glass slipper on her feet. Remember that this is the team that has no home series to look forward to in the foreseeable future, the country that had the ICC Champions Trophy taken away from it and given to South Africa. These are the players who were prevented from playing in the IPL, and the same side that was annihilated by South Africa and India in warm-up matches. But less than three weeks on, they are champions of the world. Their fans, who have had to put up with so much over the past few years and whose support has been so steadfast and magnificent, deserve this perhaps more than the players do. This was their moment, one that they won't ever forget.
Younis Khan jokingly called himself the 'Second Khan' at the post-match press conference. In truth, this victory could mean even more than the one in 1992. Back then, despite their inconsistency, Pakistan were the glamour boys of international cricket, big drawcards wherever they went. These days, they have become the pariahs. The players, caught in the crossfire of global politics, have seen their opportunities to shine dwindle, and watched with both envy and curiosity as those with less talent scooped up million-dollar contracts and endorsement deals.
The parallels to 1992 are unmistakeable though. Pakistan don't like doing things the easy way. Not for them the easy stroll in the park, not when they can scramble across an obstacle course that would test an SAS commando. Back in the day when everything smelt like teen spirit, Pakistan lost three of their first five games and would probably have been eliminated but for the Adelaide game against England being rained off. The revival started with convincing victories over Australia and Sri Lanka at the WACA, before back-to-back wins against highly fancied New Zealand put them into the final. Wasim Akram's mastery of swing did the rest.
The mandatory lousy start here included a 48-run thumping by England, and a botched run-chase against the Sri Lankans in the Super Eights. But emphatic victories against New Zealand and Ireland clinched the semi-final place that had eluded the likes of Australia and India, before South Africa, who looked pretty much the complete side, were caught cold by the Shahid Afridi show. There was a re-run in the final, with Abdul Razzaq also chipping in to prove that there really is no substitute for big-match experience.
Afridi and Razzaq were in the squad when Pakistan put up a decent Twenty20 total in a World Cup final at Lord's in 1999. Unfortunately, it was a 50-over contest, and Australia chased down the runs with embarrassing ease. Two years ago, they hauled themselves out of a mid-match ditch to come with a lofted hit of victory against India, but Misbah-ul-Haq's attempted paddle found the fielder and not the rope. Often, a couple of feet is all that separates the sporting immortals from the also-rans.
Watching the lap of honour after the game, I was reminded of one of sport's true Cinderella stories, of the Danish footballers who landed up at Euro '92 after cutting short their summer holidays. Yugoslavia had been banned, and the Danes offered an eleventh-hour invitation. They rode their luck to the final, against a German side that had made its way there while building up their traditional head of big-tournament steam. The final was a mismatch, only it was the mavericks that bossed it against the examplars of consistency.
And like the Danes, Pakistan's support has illuminated this competition. Some might have found the horn-blaring celebrations at Trent Bridge a little foreign, but it's exactly that sort of passion that has kept the game going in Pakistan despite all the trials and tribulations. Lunatics that target even sportsmen may be holding parts of the country to ransom, but the spirit of 1992 was in ample evidence at Lord's today. In times of trouble, the inheritors of the Kardar-Fazal-Imran legacy invariably find a way, and while the world may not yet heed Younis's impassioned plea to go and play there, it's once again been reminded that you ignore Pakistan cricket at your peril.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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