#CricketComesHome: With tears and jubilation, the cornered tigers are back with a bang
This was bigger than cricket. This was an opportunity for Pakistan to transform its national identity.
“Ugg raha hai dar-o-deewar se sabzah Ghalib!
Hum bayabaan mein hein aur ghar mein bahar aayee hai”
(Greenery is growing out of the doors and walls, Ghalib
I am in wilderness and spring has arrived at my house.)
In his remarkable yet slightly partial treatise to the game in Pakistan, The Wounded Tiger Peter Oborne identifies two events as being game-changing in the history of the sport in the land of the pure. First was the ‘Test match’ victory over the touring MCC side in Karachi in 1951 which established an Abdul Hafeez Kardar-led Pakistan side as a force in international cricket and second, of course, was the 1992 World Cup win.
However, May 22, 2015 saw a third occasion added to the list as a pitifully divided nation sung the qaumi tarana (national anthem) with such fervour that even the most pessimist of Lahoris could not help but grin at the enormity of what was transpiring.
There was awkward romanticism about landing in Lahore from New York just 20 minutes before the second T20 was due to start. Fresh off the Jeddah (umrah) flight, passengers stood glued to the television set where Ramiz Raja and Shahid Afridi exchanged pleasantries at the toss.
Even though I had last been here a year ago, the large Haier advertisements that dotted the drive from the airport till home signalled that the biggest change here had taken place just a week ago. For that one moment when Anwar Ali jogged in to bowl was a culmination of many feelings – of nervousness, of agony, of impatience, of a collective schizophrenia and, at times, of seething envy.
As the lanky 27-year-old’s delivery gently drifted down the leg side for a half-hearted appeal, Pakistan breathed a huge sigh of relief. For after all the calamitous uncertainty leading up to that one delivery with retractions and confusions galore, once it had been released, cricket was well and truly home.
As Cricinfo’s Habeel Obaid puts it,
“A group of boys in a country obsessed with manhood entered (Gaddafi Stadium) with tears in their eyes”.
Yes, the occasion was nothing short of momentous and the thunderous tumult at the Gaddafi Stadium did well to compliment it. But what were the social implications of it? Six years is no small amount of time and yet once the tickets were sold, festivities at the Gaddafi resumed like clockwork. The vendors were back as were the animated supporters. The ruckus of traffic jams was only second to the crowd firing up Pakistan’s proudest export; fast bowlers.
The country’s favourite pastime was back and they were out in their best to support their men. But this was bigger than cricket. It was an opportunity for Pakistan to transform its national identity. Every once in a while an enthusiastic 20-something would raise a poster with “Pakistan is SAFE” or something along those compassionate lines to the camera. It was an opportunity to dispel misconceptions, to show the cricketing world and beyond that everyone lost out when our stadiums were left to rot.
As a nation that is hopelessly in love with the game, the zealous hospitality off the pitch and support on it leave one to wonder how many times this would multiply if a more prominent nation were to tour. The massive impact of this, by other means low key tour would increase tenfold if a Sri Lankan side or even a Bangladeshi team were to be bold enough.
It makes me shudder to think that an entire generation of Pakistanis stood at the cusp of being robbed of cricket as we have known it and this series was just in time to save that. The implications this has for the game itself have already been discussed in great detail and whichever way the wind may blow for those discussing it, one thing is certain: it is all immensely positive in an otherwise sea of desolate uncertainty.
As a tall Mukhtar Ahmed effortlessly dispatched the white cherry over midwicket, one thing was certain – Kamran Khan’s morality and Mullah Omar’s lack thereof seemed far, far away.