Team Pakistan is back. Victory, O’ sweet victory. How we lusted after this win, how we hungered for it to salvage our chances, our prospects, and our pride. And now we have vanquished the mighty South Africans, and are back in the game with a bang.
It is but one battle in a world war that has some way to go. But man, did we need this one. Humiliated and battered beyond belief, Misbah’s boys had shamed a nation with their atrocious batting and inconsistent bowling. Between casino scandals and selection controversies, the hope and dreams of the nation lay shattered on the killing fields of Australia and New Zealand.
But then Auckland happened. A nation hooked to TV screens, sceptical of any chances but living on a prayer; a team fighting for its survival, and for its dignity — it all came together in a dazzling display of cricketing prowess as batsmen flashed their bats like longswords and bowlers hurled balls like grenades. The buffed up South Africans, chasing a modest total, were surprised by the relentless pace attack of the Greenshirts, and their wickets fell like decapitated bodies on a bloody battlefield. De Villiers fought alone, surrounded by 11 ferocious warriors, but his courage and valour was not enough to stop the Pakistani juggernaut. Once he was slain, it was all over for the South Africans.
Cricket does unite us like nothing else. All anger, cynicism and sadness swept away in a deluge of celebration as men, women and children dance in the streets to the thump thump of drums. For this brief moment, all troubles are forgotten, all tensions drowned in a shower of pure, unadulterated joy. It is a joy borne of a belief — resurrected yet again — that we can, yes we can. Indeed we can, despite mismanagement and favouritism; despite petty intrigues and internal fractures; despite groupings and lobbying; jealousies and insecurities; and despite the negativity spurred by inflated egos of deflated men. The Saturday victory showed us all that howsoever down and out we may be, we adamantly refuse to roll over and play dead.
This victory over De Villiers’ mighty men may lift us to the heights that we need to soar to reach the quarter-finals. It has reignited the spirit, passion, grit and determination that is required to make ordinary men do extraordinary feats. The victory has fuelled a depressed nation and unleashed a firestorm of hopes and expectations. The mathematics of getting into the quarter-finals is still a bit complex, and still requires a victory over Ireland to seal the deal. Much to do yet, much to fight, much to hold on to.
The joy of victory is transient. Once the euphoria of Saturday’s victory dies down, something will stay alive: the belated realisation — thankfully so — that we have a lot of fight left in us. This raging spirit will not solve the persistent and inherent problems that plague our team and its management, but it will remain a source of redemption for a team that may yet produce another scintillating performance.
What does this cricketing mania say about a nation that can’t get its act together? What does it say about a people who find togetherness in a game, but not in much else? What does it say about a society that finds itself carved up across religious, ethnic, sectarian and political fault lines, only to reach out and embrace a union cemented by cricket?
Questions asked over and over again as the 11 men in green shirts give us glorious joy or excruciating pain. A sixer smashed and seems like 180 million people do a wave; a wicket fallen and sudden gloom descends across the land. The rollercoaster of emotion binds us in a federation of cricket that is beyond the reach of the Eighteenth Amendment.
So this may sound nice, and feel nicer, but it does teach us a thing or two. Yes indeed, this federation of cricket screams out the desperation for togetherness, for oneness and sameness. It begs to be seen for what it stands for — a reminder that collective joy generated by collective success can fuel social energy. This energy can in turn carve out a narrative that binds us in common cause.
Too much to expect from a game? Perhaps. But the symbolism is unmistakable. You see men, women and children beaming with unbridled happiness — normal people living normal lives, abandoned by the State, ignored by the government, finding solace in a game that brings out the best in them. Force-fed nationalism never produces such spontaneous combustion. And rarely does it ignite an emotional fire that blazes across our landscape with near-equal intensity. Cricket is the great binder for us Pakistanis. But it should not be the only one.
In fact, it shouldn’t be the primary one either. Togetherness, oneness and sameness normally accrue as a result of a common set of values cherished in unison; values and ideals that constitute a basic fundamental consensus within society. This consensus may hinge on the barest minimum of elements but it does point towards a common objective.
Do we have one? Is it collective progress? A better life for all? Material and human development? Regional and global power? Education for all? Peace and stability in the country leading to a safe future? What do we really yearn for? Do we even yearn for the same thing? Or has the Eighteenth Amendment even made yearning a provincial subject?
These questions lurk in the background as the common yearning for the World Cup burns like a phosphorous fire after the glorious vanquishing of South Africa. For now, we Pakistanis have a common yearning, a common goal and a collective ambition: win back the trophy. But there are so many other trophies we should be winning, and so many other problems we should be vanquishing, if only the rulers can sort out the fundamentals of governance, and help build a national consensus on our ultimate social and political goals.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2015.
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