The team that lost, won. The accolades just kept on coming. The story engaged. The visuals amazed. The conduct awed. The behavior endeared. T20 World Cup dream of Pakistani team ended in the semi-final, but the T20 World Cup team inspiration continues. Normally ICC World Cups are all about runs, wickets, catches, sixers, fours. Abnormally, this World Cup is more about behaviour, character and the amazing spirit of being human. This tournament was special. It was special because it was held after a delay of a year. This tournament was special as it was held out of the host country. This tournament was special as it boasted of some of the strongest teams in the history of cricket. For Pakistan it was a very special test due to:
A rejected team-Pakistan’s preparation for the World Cup largely depended on the visit of New Zealand and England. Both teams pulled out. It was hugely disappointing for Pakistan. Credit must be given to the Pakistan Cricket Board that handled it gracefully and assertively. It pitched its case to the cricketing world on how unfair and illogical it was. The cricketing world responded. They responded as the reasons given by the two teams to pull out were lame. Ex-cricketers made scathing remarks on this pullout. Commentators all across the world gave shoutouts. This made the two boards distinctly uneasy and the other boards like Australia who were supposed to visit Pakistan a bit careful in their decisions. The best part was that the critics almost shamed the two boards comparing Pakistan’s exemplary behavior in England the summer before with the rather deplorable attitude of cricket board officials in the two countries cancelling their tours. This was the first turning point in restoring the morale of not just the cricketers but the people of Pakistan.
The fierce competitors-World Cups are all about pressure-cooker competition. Top teams build up the whole hype of being the winners. Pakistan has always played well in the shortest form of cricket. However, in recent times its performance in this format was disappointing. The teams that was rated the joint favourite were India and England. India was the host and had a team whose recent performances had made it look very tough. Add to that the fact that they were playing IPL in Dubai for the last month or so, most experts classified them as invincible. An under-prepared Pakistan pitched against the mighty Indians in the very first match of the tournament made Indian experts feel “pity” for the slaughter that was waiting for Pakistan. Pakistan had a lot to prove.
A nation on the back-foot— Pakistanis over the last few decades have become apologetic about themselves and their country. Perceived as an unsafe, unstable country, the real Pakistani spirit has always been overtaken by defensiveness or reactiveness. Thus when despite state level security Pakistan was termed as unsafe to tour by New Zealand most Pakistanis felt that all the hard work to put Pakistan back on the map had gone waste. There was dejection, anger and hopelessness.
With this context people were not really expecting miracles. But miracles did happen. And they happened where there was least hope. No, we did not win the World Cup. In fact we did not even win the semifinals. But the feeling of victory is much more profound and enduring. What has happened has taken nearly the whole world by surprise. Nobody realized the far-reaching impact these factors will have:
Performance beyond potential- Performance is the first measure. A team that was at best termed mercurial and volatile showed incredible consistency. In the opening match against India, the performance was brilliant with the ball and the bat. That left the Indians and the world rubbing their eyes in wonder and disbelief. Most people termed it as a fluke. But the brilliance was repeated against New Zealand. And the team reached the semifinals unbeaten with sterling performance by a host of players. The speed and skill of the fast bowlers, the guile of the spinners and the class of the batters gained praise from its loudest critics.
Indomitable spirit — Perhaps the most inspiring incidents happened outside the field. Rizwan’s visual being on the ICU bed hours before the semifinal was a knockout. His doctor said that he was brought in a serious condition, but, such was his will to play for his country that he overcame the illness and went on to play another memorable innings. The fact that despite all odds the team displayed such heroic tenacity held the world in awe way after the tournament was over.
Character and values — This team got more fame and support than the cup winners. Performance gets you admiration, character gets you inspiration. What has literally floored everybody is the display of exemplary character and behavior. The aggressive nature of T20 cricket somehow has made the game become a winner take all clash. What has stood out in the Pakistani players is their passion combined with down to the earth humility. What has been outstanding is their sharing and caring display of including the smaller teams in their personal celebrations and sharing their knowledge with them. What has been enchanting is the innocence of the younger players in seeking out their role models in other teams regardless of their nationality. On display were values of resolve, determination, commitment, friendship, team work, passion and patriotism.
Cricket was a gentleman’s game. Somewhere the spirit was suppressed by commercialism and consumerism. Every game needs to make money. Every player needs to earn enough to sustain beyond their playing days. Match fixing, spot fixing, auction of players has made the game a ruthless business. Cheating, tampering, doctoring has marred the real beauty of the game. Somehow the perception had been created that till you become nasty, sneaky, arrogant, you will not count. What Pakistan did in this T20 World Cup is to remind, revive and rejuvenate the real essence of the core values of the game. It is this revival of the spirit of the game that has made giants like Australia, England and New Zealand wanting to tour Pakistan. It is this restoration of the game’s legacy that has convinced ICC to award Champions Trophy hosting rights 2025 to a country and a team that has stirred the world beyond the game.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021