Abid Hussain says a prayer for Pakistan’s cricket team and its
impending performance in the World Cup

So it arrives. The Cirque du Soleil of international cricket returns after the shambolic event we witnessed in the Caribbean in 2007. 15 years ago, when the World Cup was last staged in the subcontinent, things were rather different. Wasim and Waqar were still bowling those toe-crushing yorkers; Aussie domination had just begun; Twenty20 (orT20, as the popular abbreviation goes) wasn’t even a figment of anybody’s imagination; no one was convicted of match fixing; Pakistan was still hosting international cricket; and One-Day International
(ODI) cricket was the sole breadwinner for cricket boards across the world.

All that has changed.

For Pakistan, it’s mostly been for the worse: is it a coincidence that our cricket team’s declining fortunes have begun to tally with those of our nation? Machiavellian conspiracies have reigned supreme. Disasters have struck. Tales of greed, murder, backstabbing, infighting and, in one case, cross-border love, along with the occasional memorable win on the field, have turned Pakistani cricket into a veritable soap opera with no end in sight.

And yet, despite a captaincy crisis that was raging until two weeks before the start of the world cup, Pakistan has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of its reputation, suddenly looking like a dangerous floater and considered by many as the darkest horse.

Behind this aura of edgy unpredictability is perhaps the second-most charismatic Pathan cricketer this country has ever known. With his high-octane boom-or-bust potential, his flowing locks and public displays of man-love on the field, Sahibzada Shahid Khan Afridi is a cult hero and a saviour.

It remains to be seen if he can keep his men together for the duration of this six-week-long tournament, not just coaxing out the talent they all possess but also leading them from the front.
Historically speaking, the two world cups Pakistan played in the last decade were both unmitigated, unprecedented disasters. The 2003 edition in South Africa saw Pakistan tumbling out after losing high-profile games against Australia, England and India in the first round, eventually ushering in a mass-exodus of the last generation of legends such as Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar and Rashid Latif.

The “rebuilding period” then saw a semblance of stability, with Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul-Haq at the helm of affairs. But the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean turned out to be the stuff of nightmares, because Pakistan not only lost to plucky minnows Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, they also lost coach Woolmer, and frighteningly, as the man was found
dead in his hotel room the next morning.

Presently, too, Pakistan is preceded by its reputation. (Two words: spot fixing.) And the related loss of two of our most promising fast bowlers is a punch in the gut. It’s fair to say the team has lost more than it has won. Yet there remains a sliver of hope.

The team lost two series against England and South Africa, but both were mighty close and were only decided in the final matches. Also, in its last assignment before the world cup, Pakistan managed to defeat an admittedly weak Kiwi team on their home turf, not only winning our first set of silverware in a long while, but also that priceless commodity called momentum.

Every team in the world cup has found some extra motivation to pump them up. Sri Lanka wants to give a perfect farewell to Muralitharan. South Africa wants to win it for Kallis and perhaps more than that, put to rest the title of ‘chokers’. England wants to show their T20 win was no fluke. Australia wants the world to know that they still haven’t lost their invincible aura. India wants to win for Sachin and to live up to their tag as the outright favourites.

As for Pakistan, the naysayers and detractors claim the team is too divided and disjointed to function. And that in itself is the engine of our resilience, for nothing motivates men or nations more than the realisation that they have been misjudged, slighted, wronged. This is why Pakistan is the team to watch out for, the team to follow, the team to support, and the team to believe in.

May the force be with the men in green:

Here we go it’s getting close
Now it’s just who wants it most
It’s just life that’s how it is
Cause we have our strength and weaknesses

Oh I have vision oh can’t you see
I’m on the move make way for me
And when I fall down
I have to pick myself back up

So stand up stand up for the champions
For the champions stand up
Stand up  –
Right Said Fred