Being optimistic hurts when you are a Pakistan cricket fan in a country where the players who yield the willow and/or the kookaburra are the most revered ones.
With optimism come expectations. Expectations that Fakhar Zaman will go ballistic, Babar Azam will stand and deliver confidence-shattering punches through covers, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik will counter spin with immaculate precision, Imad Wasim will finally prove he is an all-rounder, Sarfaraz will come up the order and score a century, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan will hit a few out of the park at the end, or maybe Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir will add 20-30 to the team’s total.
Or maybe you expect something magical from your bowling. A toe-crusher, an unplayable doosra, a deceiving googly or maybe just something as normal as a catch in the slips or in the field.
You expect. Expect that Pakistan will play normal cricket, maybe mediocre cricket, hopefully, at the least, simple and plain cricket. But then, as the curtain falls and the show starts, the performance is at par. Not at par with the worldly standards of cricket, but at par with the ridiculously low standards that you expect from Pakistan. Batting and bowling failures, and if somehow they click, then fielding mishaps.
One minute down, second minute deeper and third minute in a downward spiral. Dismal, depressing, disheartening and now ‘suicide’ inducing too.
But what does one do if one chooses not to be optimistic?
Being pessimistic brings a gloomy feeling too. You don’t look at a match and see the magic that Mohammad Amir is weaving or the comeback innings that Haris Sohail is playing. You seem to stop enjoying the little moments of happiness, not because you don’t like having fun, but only because in the end there won’t be anything but grief. Short-lived happiness can easily die out when the fear of inevitable pain in lingering.
You are expecting the worst of the worst from Pakistan. Even if they win comfortably, you can’t just fathom that they did it themselves. The other team may have underperformed, or maybe we were lucky, and if not anything else, the pitch, the weather and the toss favoured us.
Then what does one do if one chooses not to be pessimistic too?
Be realistic? But what is real about the unpredictable and mercurial Pakistan? The players look like heroes and gladiators one day, like they have jumped out of a Hollywood classic: confident and brave, self-assured and assertive, bold and daring. They can down the mightiest, pull off miracles in run chases, defend unworldly totals. On their day, there is nothing they can’t do.
But then there are those low-spirited performances. Where scoring runs against mediocre bowlers looks like a mountain to climb, where dismissing the worst opposition batsman becomes impossible and where catches are not attempted like they can win you matches.
If one is a Pakistan cricket fan, the only ‘real’ that is, can and should be expected from the team is the surreal. Pakistan has lost the ability to do the ordinary, which means there is no way you can guess what they’ll pull out of the hat on a given day.
New Zealand are waiting now, while country’s cricket fans will have their eyes glued to the screens too and truth be told, the whole cricketing world will be watching, because if there is one team that can beat the still unbeaten Kiwis in this World Cup, it is the surreal Pakistan.