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X-SQUARE: VICTORIES AS AMAZING AS MEANINGLESS

September 10, 2017

Regardless of how thrilling the Bangladesh victory over Australia was or how scintillating the West Indian win over England was, it will take a cut-throat punter to put their money on the two winners in the short run. The two encounters, coming as they did in the same week recently, reflected more on the two losing sides. It is especially true of the West Indian effort.

To be fair to Bangladesh, the side is definitely on the crest of a wave for a while and it is hard to brush their victory aside as the proverbial flash in the pan. There is something definitely being done by the relevant stakeholders that have earned them some semblance of respect in the eyes of the world. It is good for them and is good enough for the followers of the game to keep an eye on them … albeit a lazy one!

They have come close to being decent at home on a consistent basis. Not quite the backyard bully yet, but a serious contender who can pull the rug from under the opponent’s feet if the latter is not focussed enough — just like what happened with the Australians.

Coming out of an extended pay dispute with the administration and lacking any competitive cricket worth its name for a good couple of months, the Australians tried to use the outing as a warm-up for the Ashes later this year. There was no other reason why they included Usman Khawaja in the side. The lad is a guaranteed disaster as soon as he steps out to face even a mildly spinning ball. The demons in his mind create such clutter and confusion that he loses out to even a non-spinning ball. Back home he is as good a batsman as any; only better. It was the prospect of Ashes on home soil that made the selectors go for the right horse on the wrong course.

While Bangladesh and West Indies celebrate their wins against Australia and England, it is difficult to see them taking much forward from their efforts

Even with all these self-inflicted wounds hurting Australia, the victory margin for Bangladesh was no more than 20 runs. It could have still gone the other way. And until a couple of years earlier, it would have surely gone the other way. This time it didn’t and that is progress.

But Bangladesh is a fair distance away from being taken seriously outside their comfort zone. And that is what separates the men from the boys and the sheep from the goats. There is no way of saying how long the journey might be because it has not begun yet. Till that happens, the Bengal Tiger will have to roar within the safety of its own jungle.

Moving on to the West Indies, their victory can safely be put aside as another in the litany of false starts we have all seen over the years. Having said that, one cannot but emphasise the need to enjoy a West Indian victory; a rarity on all counts.

There is no way of saying how long the journey might be because it has not begun yet. Till that happens, the Bengal Tiger will have to roar within the safety of its own jungle.

There was a time — from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s — when cricket followers around the world had two favourite teams: one was their national side and the other would be the West Indies. They were universal favourites. Their flair, their flavour and their swagger were infectious. The world wanted them to be at their best even against their own side because the West Indian brand of cricket was worth watching regardless of the consequences. In the last 20 years, the side has struggled to be even a pale shadow of its once glorious self.

It had a modicum of competitiveness till around the turn of the century when Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were around. One went away in 2000, the other a year later. The charm of Brian Lara bowed out in 2006 and that was that. Even the doggedness of Shivnarine Chanderpaul was not enough to make it a fighting unit. As if all this was not enough, the administration went on a warpath with the players, leaving out the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and a few others, which in turn sapped the life out of the unit particularly in the shorter versions.

So, like all the great West Indian victories, the recent one at Leeds was remarkable. And, like all the great West Indian victories in the last 15 years, it was crazy, heady and intoxicating without being a harbinger of things greater and bigger. Every time the team wins, there is talk in the media of a turnaround because the world desperately wants the flair back in the game. But every victory has proved time and again to be just that: a standalone effort bereft of any carryover component. The current one can be no different.

POSTSCRIPT: What in your opinion is the difference between a Pakistani victory and a West Indian one? No prizes for guessing because it is pretty simple. The former is predictably unpredictable and the latter is unpredictably predictable. Those among us who enjoy the ‘predictably unpredictable’ epithet need to wake up actually. Instead of sliding down to the West Indian stage, we need to be predictably predictable in order to be competitive on the world stage.

humair.ishtiaq@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 10th, 2017