I have been following the Pakistan cricket team ever since I can remember. After the stinging loss against India in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final, I felt a personal duty to rectify the wrong. The defeat did not dishearten me; on the contrary, it reinvigorated my love for the game.
Throughout my youth, I would pretend I am Aamir Sohail and point to the bowler where I was going to hit him next. A strategy that worked for me because I was only good playing shots on the leg side – so regardless of the bravado, I was going to try and hit the ball there. Pointing it to the bowler only added to the mind-games.
The 1999 World Cup is what I classify as my World Cup. I was old enough to be a proper fan. I knew every single player of every single team. Before the days of fantasy leagues, I would replicate every single match in my own garage by playing against myself. Whoever I was pretending to be, while trying to hit the wickets or batting against the wall, would be adjudged to be the winner. Obviously, I cheated every time Pakistan was competing.
It is only befitting for my personal narrative that the Pakistani team performed extraordinarily during the World Cup. I vividly remember Moin Khan getting down on his knees and sweeping Glenn Mcgrath outside the Leeds ground and Shoaib Akhtar knocking over Steve Waugh’s wicket during the Pakistan versus Australia group match.
Our performance in the final shattered the heart of a 10-year-old me but once again I took it upon myself to rectify history again. I found International Cricket Captain, a cricket simulation game. There is no competition in the world that I have not made Pakistan win on that game, and its subsequent versions.
In 2003, I knew the venues for every single game featuring Pakistan. I had every single permutation and combination worked out on how Pakistan could win the tournament. We had a team that was the envy of the world; my childhood hero, Waqar Younis, was captain. Nothing could go wrong.
It is a poor punch line to that set up that all I remember from the World Cup is Sachin Tendulkar hitting Shoaib for six over third-man.
Thankfully, we did not even get a chance to play against India in 2007. The less said about our performance, the better.
However, in 2011, our dismal performances in the last two World Cups and the controversy surrounding the spot-fixing scandal meant we did not go in as favourites. By now, I too was no longer a starry-eyed youngster. Like most Pakistani fans, I too had become cynical of our team’s chances. I was not backing Pakistan to win the World Cup.
Lo and behold, we punched above our weight, and we punched hard. We made it all the way to the semi-final on the back of strong performances. If anything, we went into that match as favourites against India. The stage was set to finally beat India in a World Cup. I watched the match with a thousand people at a screening. It just had to finally happen.
But it did not.
After suffering so many heartbreaks, there was no way I was going to back the Pakistan cricket team during the 2015 edition, but something strange started happening a few days before the match. Despite all my cricketing knowledge telling me India was the better team – they were acclimatised in Australia and we were hit by numerous injuries – I was convinced we were going to win.
Shane Warne declaring Yasir Shah to be the best leg spinner in the world only added fuel to the fire of my hope – the fire that consumed the entire country during the Pakistan-India match. I was ready to bet everything irrationally on Pakistan. And then it began. All bodily functions and matters of hygiene took a back seat. The bladder had to be controlled to make sure no second of the action was missed.
Watching Mohammad Irfan and Sohail Khan steaming in with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan cowering sent my hopes through the roof – despite Shikhar looking like a body-double for Aamir Khan during the shooting of Mangal Panday. Sohail, despite looking like a younger version of Rana Naveedul Hasan, was steaming in.
He appealed every decision like an amateur lower court lawyer. Our team was excited, not nervous. We were finally going to get the monkey off our back. We were energetic in the field and the Indian batsmen were playing under pressure. Was going in as the underdogs finally allowing Pakistan to sneak a victory over our bigger neighbours? Sohail surprising Sharma with the bounce sent me bouncing off my seat. I could feel the electricity in the atmosphere all the way from Adelaide.
But that was probably the highlight of the match.
It was all downhill from there.
The moment Shah dropped an incredibly difficult catch of Kohli, the heads of our team dropped. We allowed the batsmen to settle and score freely. As if the innings was trying to be a microcosm of the history of the Pakistan-India World Cup matches narrative, it started full of hope, hope that was ignited by the wicket. Umar Akmal doing his best Kamran Akmal impersonation did not help either.
As India set up for an explosion at the end, all hope looked lost… but the Pakistan cricket team never lets hope die. From the brink of a total disaster, the Pakistani bowlers clawed India back to a respectable target – a score that honestly seemed like we would be able to chase down.
Our team went into the dressing rooms with their heads held high. If only Younus Khan could also get his head out of the way of that ball. The two decisions that cost us that match were to not have a specialist keeper and to open with Younus. However, the Pakistani team does not let you down easy. When you feel like all is lost, they give you hope before finally collapsing.
Haris Sohail’s form, Ahmad Shahzad’s innings and Misbah’s presence in the middle all gave the Pakistani cricket fans hope… before inevitably sending it all crashing down.
The only man to come out with any dignity was Misbahul Haq. I wonder if he smells bad; why does no other player want to spend time with him in the middle?
And the seven stages of grief that every Pakistani cricket fan goes through began.
The first was shock and denial
How could we lose three wickets in two overs?
What made Sohaib Maqsood play so carelessly outside his off stump on the second delivery he had faced?
There is no way that our team could have performed that poorly. The team looked so good against England in the warm-up matches, especially Maqsood.
Narendra Modi called Nawaz Sharif before the match. He must have asked him to ask the cricket team to lose. Maybe our checkered history was back to haunt us. We are in Australia; there must have been foul-play involved. That is it, the match was fixed. We agreed to lose the match for diplomacy – just as we did in 2011 and 1996.
There is a worldwide conspiracy against us. They did not give Sachin out on review in 2011 and gave Umar out upon review in 2015. They also banned Saeed Ajmal before the World Cup. Zaid Hamid was right, there is a Yahoodi saazish (Jewish conspiracy)!
Then came pain and guilt
It was my fault; I jinxed it by believing that we will win. Nazar laga di team ko.
Followed by anger
Why couldn’t Ahmad Shahzad just stay at the crease for a little longer? There was no need for that shot. Even at the end with seven wickets gone, the run-rate was achievable if only we had some recognised batsmen on the crease. If we had picked Fawad Alam in the squad, we would not have thrown away his wicket so cheaply.
Well at least we got the match out of the way. Now we can focus on the rest of the World Cup; we did not need to beat India to go through to the next round. We can still win the World Cup.
Then came depression, loneliness and reflection
We had Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Shoaib, Mushtaq Ahmad and Saqlain Mushtaq playing in the same squad. Teams go through peaks and bottoms.
At least I can watch videos of all those players to cheer myself up. I have the 1992 World Cup final memorised already…
Oh why, oh why did Imran Khan not go to Australia as our coach?
We could have promised him the prime minister-ship had we won us this World Cup!
Then the upward turn
Wait a minute! We lost our initial matches in the 1992 World Cup also. We went into that World Cup as the under dogs as well. Misbah can be our Imran. This is good. We have already hit rock bottom and from now on it will all be upwards. We will peak at the right time during this World Cup and end up winning it.
And finally, acceptance and hope
2019 main pohendgay yaar (we’ll light it up in 2019).
A graduate from the LUMS Law School and is running his own theatre production company, Cogito Productions.He works as a theatre teacher at various schools. He tweets @Shehzad89 (twitter.com/Shehzad89)
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