THAT WAS JUST NOT CRICKET

Updated 20 Jun 2017

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IT was such unadulterated joy to see the scintillating Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali getting Pakistan off to a flying start and laying the foundations for a solid 338 runs off 50 overs at The Oval on Sunday because the total looked like a tall order even for the powerhouse that the Indian batting has often been in recent times.

If the batting made one’s heart leap with wonder, one was ecstatic, even delirious, when Amir ripped the heart out of the Indian batting in his opening spell. I bet I was not the only one pinching myself in disbelief. It was actually happening. My wife and daughter were out so I hugged the dog who was already shell-shocked with all my yelling in not just parliamentary parlance.

Social media, Twitter in particular, was exploding with the Pakistani Twitterati going wild, and quizzing traditional rivals, the Indians about why they’d suddenly discovered a hockey match that was assuming life and death proportions. Life and death hockey match? Yes, some World Cup qualifier where they were 5 or 6 goals ahead of us.

Many Indian media friends took to this hockey match like a duck to water as on a day nothing worked for their cricket team, their hockey team provided them with a direly-needed analgesic, even anesthetic. I could feel their pain, having suffered it for so, so long myself, and so would you if you are a Pakistan cricket fanatic as well.

The pain, the joy, the heartbreak and the utter ecstasy in most, or dare I say all but a few, cases were all about cricket. India-Pakistan rivalry, the friendly banter, the leg-pulling, the jokes and the proffered shoulder to fans across the border to cry on were all about cricket and nothing but cricket.

The match over one felt a tad weak as is wont to happen after adrenaline has continued to pump, flow at full steam for hours on end. Relaxed with a (soft) drink in hand and settling in for the evening with a sort of a permanent grin fixed where one’s face used to be, it was time to relive the day through the Twitter timeline and see some reactions too.

The grin soon turned into a frown. One cricket win owing to an electric performance by a very young cricket team with a new leader at its helm and most of the political entities were trying to milk it in a variety of ways. And while some were just irritating others were outright opportunistic and disgusting.

The exception were Pakistan Peoples Party leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his sisters Bakhtawar and Aseefa as all three of them expressed joy via emoticons in their tweets and congratulated the team on its performance.

PML-N tweeted its leaders’ reactions via its official Twitter account and all its leaders including the prime minister, who was said to have recorded his message from Saudi Arabia where he is with his family for Umra, simply congratulated the team and the nation on this win.

Even Water and Power (hopefully loadshedding didn’t ruin your match) Minister Khwaja Asif congratulated the team and highlighted the difficult backdrop of no international cricket at home for this win without invoking machinery such as tractor-trollies, dumpers, bulldozers, etc even as Pakistan virtually bulldozed India.

But the PML-N found it impossible to let the day go faux pas-free and reminded one and all of the (purely coincidental) fact that Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister when Pakistan won the Cricket World Cup in 1992 and is in office on the occasion of this win too.

However, PTI leader Imran Khan, who has undoubtedly inspired a generation (or two) of our cricketers, tweeted thus: “Pakistan have defeated India to become #CT17 Champions. Now the whole nation awaits the defeat of the corrupt mafia.” As the whole nation appeared united in celebrations, these words looked out of place to say the least.

This wasn’t all. Some of the PTI supporters, who witnessed The Oval triumph, then harassed and shoved and pushed PCB boss Najam Sethi and his wife Jugnu Mohsin as they were exiting the stadium after the presentation ceremony was over. They had to be rescued by the police who kept them in a security cordon till the crowd had dissipated.

If one was expecting an apology from the more responsible leaders of the party, one was sadly mistaken as the party’s verified official account tweeted a clip of the rather sad spectacle with the words: Spotting Najam Sethi after a glorious win, jubilant Pakistanis burst spontaneously into #GoNawazGo outside The Oval.

The army spokesman tweeted ‘Umra announced by the COAS’ for the team and also photos of the high command watching the match together at presumably the Army House. The spokesman also tweeted images of celebrations in Srinagar, and Balochistan with a ‘lay off’ message to India possibly.

With those who wield, or aspire to wield, power in the country displaying their acumen in politicising the sport, it was left to the 30-year-old Pakistan Captain Sarfraz Ahmed to talk sense and serve the cause of seeking an end to international isolation: “Hopefully, this win will boost Pakistan cricket and, hopefully, all playing nations will come to Pakistan (now).”

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2017