If you hadn’t followed Pakistan cricket since it’s inception and only tuned in during this World Cup, you could not have asked for a better crash course on what to expect as a Pakistan fan than the campaign this time around.
Throughout this tournament, we got to experience all sets of circumstances and emotions that one associates with this team. And each game was a chapter in itself on how this marvellous team excites and frustrates its followers in equal measure.
To start off, replacing one fifth of your original squad even before the World Cup began suggested the kind of ill-planning one attributes to Pakistan, whether on the sports field or in life in general. You saw a batting failure/collapse of epic proportions in the very first match against the West Indies, the likes of which we are all too familiar with (we have seen the entire team fold for 43 as well, you know).
The Pakistan team’s World Cup campaign perfectly encapsulated not only the roller-coaster ride that is the team but also its volatile relationship with its fans and critics
The second match saw us beat the best team in the world, England, and end their unbelievable run of chasing a target and winning at home — somewhat similar to 2011 when we halted Australia’s winning streak at the World Cups that had lasted for 12 years.
We were favourites against Sri Lanka but the match was washed out, leaving us to curse our luck.
The roller-coaster encounter against Australia may, in fact, be a book within the chapter; a questionable XI to begin with, followed by a sense of despair during the first innings that was then replaced with some hope of pulling off the remarkable in the second, only for all of it to come crashing down in the end.
The Pakistan-India clash and the reactions to that loss are well documented and the less said about it the better.
Then panic set in. A barrage of criticism saw the management making changes to the team and, in the process, accidentally stumble upon its best combination. There were rumours of lobbying and grouping against the captain, accompanied by controversies off the field. It appeared that everything was falling apart in the dressing room. Against this backdrop, the team united to give remarkable performances against South Africa and New Zealand.
The win against South Africa was as clichéd a Pakistan performance as it gets. There was a general sense that the batsmen may not have been scoring at the rate we all wanted them to, only for some unbelievably breathtaking hitting by an unexpected player who had inexplicably not been in any of the XIs before. He took us to a respectable total which,let’s be honest, we still felt was 20 to 30 runs short of an ideal score. But then the bowlers did their job despite the fielders dropping a gazillion catches.
The team then proceeded to give us massive bouts of anxiety and all trauma linked to it in the match against Afghanistan. It seemed that all was lost against a lesser team, only for a hero (along with some umpiring decisions) miraculously rescuing us to a win in the same vein as the now legendary Multan test against Bangladesh in 2003. Then came the all-too-familiar feeling of hoping and praying that other results fall in our favour to help us through.
The final match versus Bangladesh had us hoping against hope for another miracle, and despite all logic, we believed! In the end, we fell short, blamed the net run-rate and accused the system of being rigged against us, while going over the many ‘what if’ moments in matches that did not even feature our team …
Yep, classic Pakistan!
While the drama on the fields of England and Wales was enthralling at the very least, the commentary and analysis shared by revered ex-players and experts of the game on screens and social media was nothing short of a circus.
Some of the soundbytes that came out of Cricket World Cup 2019 were extremely toxic and nothing short of being absurd. We saw the captain of the team ridiculed and body-shamed by former cricketers and television anchors. There were those who accused the Indian team of not playing a Muslim player in a dead-rubber due to pressure from the ruling party in India. Those who couldn’t pick on anything during this tournament tried to stir up controversies from the past by accusing former teammates of intentionally dropping catches out of spite during previous world cups.
And then there was the ‘everything is fixed’ brigade. We witnessed one former test cricketer and selector suggest that India would throw the game against Bangladesh to make sure that Pakistan does not qualify for the semi-finals, while another former cricketer and chief selector openly stated that the ICC would manipulate the outcome of the tournament to ensure more commercial revenue by setting up a Pakistan versus India game in the knock-outs. The national broadcaster even aired a conversation where former cricketers and the host accused players of being pawns in a bigger game controlled by higher powers (or something like that), giving airtime to unsubstantiated vitriol.
We even had a female journalist, who claims to be a consultant to an international news channel, use derogatory language for one of the senior-most players in the team. She went as far as to publicly question his celebrated wife about why she married him in the first place.
Everything seemed kosher this World Cup season. It laid the foundation for a very toxic environment for the players and their families. And it was the ugly incident that involved a fan and captain Sarfaraz with his toddler that also touched upon one of the darkest chapters for fans and their relationship with their stars — the hounding of these players and their loved ones by fans and media alike. In 1996 and 1999, where it was the pelting of stones on players’ homes, today it is about cornering them on social media and in person.
But I’m glad that people took notice of this. And it helps when the ones taking notice are of the stature of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. A part of the official ICC programming, Akram has been balanced in his criticism of the team, often highlighting the positives with the negatives while also telling the fans to respect the line between constructive criticism and crude personal attacks.
In a tweet, former Pakistan captain and coach Waqar Younis also called out the ex-cricketers commentating on screen against their behaviour and their verbal diarrhoea. While he himself may have been guilty of giving statements in the past that have raised eyebrows, Younis has been a lot more measured with his critique of the team in recent years. Younis, along with Bazid Khan, has been engaged as an expert by one of the sports channels broadcasting the event here in Pakistan and, like all leading international sports channels across the world, their panel knew that their job was to focus more on the game than the unnecessarily manufactured controversies around it. We need to have more of this.
Yes, this World Cup has been an excellent summary of this team and its relationship with the fans. And its critics.
The writer is a lawyer, television presenter/analyst and a sports management consultant, presently working as the General Manager of Multan Sultans He tweets @HaiderAzhar
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 14th, 2019