There was gloom, there was glee – a strange ambivalence accompanying my emotions during the nonpareil contest we call the World Cup. As enticed as I was by the 45-day cricketing battle, the fervour wasn’t enough to outweigh the blues of bidding farewell to two of the game’s dearest soldiers.
I do not write this as the traditional ‘legend-farewell essay’ – we don’t need more of those.
Nor will I quote overworked statistics to further extol their numerical milestones. This is an account of the average Pakistani’s contradictory emotions; an adieu of a pair juxtaposed with the ascent of another.
Our former ODI skipper has come a long way from that irreversible reverse-sweep in 2007 – the instance that marked the beginning of my love-hate relationship with Misbah.
As a batsman, his efforts have almost always been eclipsed by our team’s incompetency as a batting unit. He never complained.
There has been unrequited meddling in matters that solely should be left upon a captain. He never complained.
He led Pakistan through the English whitewash in 2012 and went on to become the 2nd Pakistani captain to lift the Asia Cup, yet his leadership has often been despised as ‘laid-back’. He never complained.
It took me a while, but not too long, to realise what an unworthy cricketing body Pakistan is shaping into, and how little Misbah-ul-Haq is credited. Those trite batting collapses Misbah had to crawl us out of will be remembered as moments through our history where the ‘don’t worry, Afridi is yet to come in’ was befittingly replaced by ‘don’t worry, Misbah is yet to come in.’
Dear Misbah, we thank you for your inimitable services to this nation’s cricket, and we can only hope this fledgling lot of batters can continue what you started.
If Misbah is one end of a rope that stretches across a sea of playing attributes, Shahid Afridi is the other. His sporadic shifts in playing roles from bowler to batsman to all-rounder and back to bowler have left us fans baffled – even him to an extent.
Shut your eyes on it all you want, but this very particle of uncertainty is what kept our eyes peeled for him for nearly two decades.
True, there have been days when his spells have met with disasters on the field.
There have been days when his cursory swings of the bat have cost us matches.
There have been days when he has fallen short of justifying his place as a batsman, leave alone as an all-rounder.
Be that as it may, his contributions to Pakistan cricket can never be overstated, for when it was his day, he made us and everyone watching embrace the reality that there was and will never be another like him.
By the end of the game against Australia, the unfulfilled yearning for Misbah-ul-Haq’s ODI ton began to sink in. With the animation that the tournament kicked off with, I was somewhat certain this time there will be no dismissals in the 90s.
Luck had other plans.
Accompanying him on the boat of un-ticked milestones is Shahid Afridi, who finished only 5 short of his 400 one-day wickets. Despite that, he is the only player in one-day cricket history to have scored 8000 runs and clinched over 350 wickets.
It sure would have been majestic to send them off with their respective landmarks reached, even though it would have made a minute difference to their otherwise far-stretched list of achievements.
Pakistan’s World Cup journey ended sooner than we wished it would, though looking back at it through a broader lens, it wasn’t all lousy.
Sarfraz Ahmed and Wahab Riaz ended up being the only positive outcomes of this tour, to our relief. The former’s stunning mental presence both ahead of and behind the bails catalysed Pakistan’s qualification to the quarter-finals without further embarrassment.
This is where Wahab Riaz’s uncanny spell came to life – a sight for sore eyes. I will be honest, I didn’t quite see any good he had done to cricket before, after and besides that Mohali spell in 2011.
Pace isn’t the only factor that makes a fast bowler virulent; any erudite cricket observer knows that. After months and months of perseverance and practice – much like in 2011 – the World Cup became his stage. The world watched in reverence as his vigour aided his pace, a blend so lethal it made Shane Watson question his life decisions.
Where saying goodbye to two masters of ODI cricket appears much like an uphill battle, a part of me finds solace in the idea of watching the likes of Sarfraz and Wahab evolve through the years to become the stars they are so adequate of becoming.
This moment, in the history of Pakistan cricket, might as well be remembered as one where two cricketing legacies were discontinued and two were unearthed.
May that be true.