X-SQUARE: HOPING AGAINST HOPE

June 04, 2017

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There is a fair chance that in a few hours from now, Pakistan is likely to get neatly thrashed by India. Before someone (read: diehard patriot) somewhere gets too agitated by the statement in these troubled times, let’s remember that this is merely a sports column and has nothing to do with anything else.

The setting for the possible, if not impending, defeat is in Birmingham where the two sides are due to meet as part of the Champions Trophy later today. So there is hardly any point feeling agitated, folks. Talking about a looming cricketing loss does not count as an act unpatriotic. At least it shouldn’t.

Cricket, as we all know, is a funny game, and Pakistan, as the world knows, is an even funnier side. We can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a flash of brilliance, but we can — and often do — snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with a flash of rudderless inanity. So we can expect anything, and we have all been doing just that since ages. But while being expectant, it doesn’t hurt to be realistic.

When Pakistan faces India in the Champions Trophy, the odds will be stacked rather heavily against it for some pretty valid reasons

In the absence of any bilateral exchange for the last many years, the relevant marker to calculate odds for the latest encounter would be the matches the two countries have played in a multilateral setting. Also relevant, indeed, is the manner of on-field outputs the two units have produced in the recent past.

In overall contest, Pakistan is way ahead of the Indians, with 72 wins against 51 losses in 127 matches. But one should not read too much into it because the apparently vast difference is based on a 10-year period when Pakistan had a psychological hold on the Indians; the blow having been impacted in 1986 by that famous six off the last ball in Sharjah. Till the infamous embarrassment in Bangalore in 1996, India could win only five times in 26 attempts. Since then, the two have met on the field in a one-day setting 85 times, with Pakistan winning 45 times against 38 Indian victories. Since the last time there was a bilateral contest — four years and four months earlier — given the manner in which the two sides have fared in their respective domains, it is fair to say that the gap would have narrowed down a lot further.

When it comes to multilateral contests, India has been a clean and unmistakable winner. Since there are no Test championships around, we have to limit ourselves to ODIs and T20 contests. In the former, Pakistan has won just two out of nine matches (22pc), while in the latter format it has won absolutely nothing in six matches. Put together, there have been two Pakistani victories in 15 matches in international tournaments (13pc).

This is a mental stranglehold as good as any. There have been decent Pakistani outfits who have bowed in submission under pressure. In fact there have been teams that were better off than the Indians on paper but struggled when it mattered. It is one of those phenomena in sports that are as undeniable as they are inexplicable. With a team that is still trying to find its feet, Pakistan has little chance against a side that has a settled look about it and whose players have benefitted immensely on the back of the Indian Premier League. And that is why a defeat is the most possible of all possibilities when play gets under way later today.

One element that stands out unambiguously in this equation is the blatant manner in which we put ourselves under pressure every time there is a match on hand. We make it a contest within a contest. We forget everything else and make everyone focus on the Pakistan-India contest. It makes commercial sense, no doubt. And that explains why the media creates that hype. It suits the Indians. And that explains why the Indian media — a massive entity that it is — goes for the kill. But our passion to hype things up at all levels is difficult to rationalise.

The Champions Trophy happens to be the only multilateral contest in which Pakistan has a 2-1 advantage over India. So the hope is still alive even if it means hoping against hope.

This time round, the hype — luckily and surprisingly — is not to the extent that one would have expected in line with the past. Have people resigned to fate already? Maybe. There seems to be a general understanding that the team is not quite up to the mark. Howsoever negative it may sound, acknowledgement of one’s deficiencies and the rival’s superiority is often the first step to improvement.

There is absolutely no doubt that the contest will bring the best out of the young lot and, as a team and as a nation, we have always thrived on flashes of brilliance rather than anything based on system, planning and tactical finesse. And the diehard optimist would never fail to stress that the Champions Trophy happens to be the only multilateral contest in which Pakistan has a 2-1 advantage over India. So the hope is still alive even if it means hoping against hope.

A fortnight later, on June 18, Pakistan and India will be meeting again; this time on the hockey field as part of the World Hockey League, where teams will be vying for a direct entry to the World Cup. It will be held in London which also happens to be the venue for the final of the Champions Trophy. Will the two countries face each other in two different settings on the same day in the same city? Regardless of what the heart says, the mind says NO!

humair.ishtiaq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 4th, 2017