We should be surprised our cricket team ever wins
I've written previously about the importance of having reasonable expectations when it comes to Pakistan cricket, but for some reason many fans can't keep their hopes in check.
Of course, when you have Popeye in your ranks, swatting 10 sixes with rude nonchalance, it kind of makes sense. But most Pakistani cricket lovers have been stung so sharply on so many occasions that it takes something truly spectacular to cut through the heavy protective layer of cynicism that they wrap themselves in. Reactions to Pakistani defeat inevitably revolve around the 'I told you so' refrain - everyone could see it coming, paise khaye hain, and so on.
If the team somehow wins, the players cease to be mortals and become demigods in the eyes of the public. Worryingly, the fans seem to expect that the men in green will repeat their exploits.
This polarisation, this all-or-nothing mentality, is a huge problem. While most truly dedicated followers do have a nuanced view of the problems in Pakistan cricket, for the vast majority there are only two possible states for the team - the top or the bottom (usually the latter). As a result, these fans are usually full of vitriol and criticism for the cricketers, proving that Erica Jong was right when she said that anger is really disappointed hope. I have argued before, and I will argue again - it's just about perspective.
Earlier today, a friend (presumably frustrated by the sense of impending loss) posted this comment on Facebook, before Zulqarnain Haider finally hit the winning runs:
"In almost every match we see dropped catches, miss-fields, too many extras, run outs, & Afridi throwing away his wicket. Ineffective batting power-play utilisation yet again. School boy stuff from the 'professionals' since god knows how long." Miss the days when we had class openers, dependable middle order and lethal bowling attack.
My response - why expect them to do well? Indeed, how anyone can expect much from this group of cricketers is beyond me. First, some reminders.
Pakistan last had an established opening partnership over a decade ago; since then the closest we've come to that is the unholy (or is it holy now?) alliance between Imran Farhat and Salman Butt. Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal, Yasir Hameed, Imran Nazir, and far too many others are constantly in the periphery, waiting to be given a chance. Some, like Shoaib Malik previously and Asad Shafiq now, have opening responsibilities thrust upon them despite clearly preferring the middle order.
Nothing has ever been dependable about Pakistan's batting, except for a propensity to collapse against left-arm spin, a propensity to collapse within sight of unlikely victory, and a propensity to collapse just because they can do so spectacularly. Inzamam, Younis, and Yousuf, the closest we've come to a strong middle order in recent memory, last played together against Zimbabwe in the 2007 World Cup. For reference, back then Obama was just one month into his presidency campaign, Musharraf had approval ratings of well over 50% and Facebook had just begun to replace Orkut as the social network of choice for Pakistani netizens.
The lethal bowling attack has been Pakistan's one dependable ace, but it has been decimated by a mixture of player politics, poor administration, individual weakness, and - if you wish to believe - an international conspiracy to undermine Pakistan cricket. That line would probably fit the captaincy too. The less said about Mohammad Aamer and Asif, the better.
As we all know, there are more bad apples than good in the barrel of Pakistan cricket. Yet, we still expect them to behave professionally; we still expect them to make us proud. It is far better to accept that they are not the best in the world - then we might realize that Pakistani cricketers actually deserve to be applauded for winning far more often than they should. Given the hopeless shambles that is the PCB, the team has absolutely no right to be giving Australia, England, and South Africa a hard time, much less pushing those teams to the limits of their ability and winning the odd game or two. The West Indies must be so jealous of Pakistan - their management problems are just as deep, but the only teams they have been able to beat in ODIs this year are Zimbabwe, Ireland, and Canada. In fact, the West Indians failed to win a single game at home against South Africa earlier this year.
Pakistan, by contrast, head into a bilateral series decider for the second time in months, through sheer guts and effort. Indeed, Pakistan has consistently played well in Tests this year against two of the best sides in the world, only to be undone by batting collapses. Most of their wins and losses in both ODIs and T20s have been close, hard-fought ones. A look at the statistics for the ODIs against South Africa shows that Pakistani players have, man for man, worked harder than South African ones to achieve victory. The Pakistanis have relied on lots of running and a few sixes for their runs, with 64 fours and 15 sixes (10 of them from that Razzaq innings, and three more from Afridi himself.) South Africa, by contrast, have hit 77 fours and 4 sixes. While Pakistan has used 8 bowlers in the last four games, averaging more than 23 overs per bowler (taking 23 wickets), South Africa has been able to call upon 11 bowlers who have needed to bowl, on average, only 19 overs (taking 28 wickets). On this evidence, it is difficult to accuse Pakistani players of being lazy.
The fielding statistics, while predictable, also reinforce the argument that our cricketers simply lack ability, not passion. While Pakistan has taken 10 catches, South Africans have taken 20 - while our men have effected two run outs, they have been run out nine times in four games. The travails of our wicketkeeper illustrates the gap most clearly - Zulqarnain Haider has taken only one catch in four games, while AB de Villiers has taken seven. Either he can't catch, or our bowlers can't induce an edge. In short, it's pretty far fetched to expect a Pakistan win on Monday.
However, everyone knows that Pakistan cannot be taken lightly and that anything can happen when a team (led by Shahid Afridi, that predictable, boring Rahul Dravid acolyte) takes the field. Forget that they are paid almost nothing in comparison to other international sportsmen. Forget that they insist upon an I in TEAM. Just remember that Pakistan cricket has powers that may never been completely understood. Remember that the team can pull both defeat from the jaws of victory and victory from the jaws of defeat.
Let us say a little prayer, and maybe, just maybe, there will be another unlikely victory to savour. Meanwhile, why not cheer for them?
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