A journey through Pakistan Cricket
by, 31-03-11 at 04:59 PM (901 Views)
This is my first ever blog so I would advise you all to kindly bear with me
My earliest recollection of cricket goes back to 1997 when I witnessed Ijaz Ahmed aka "The Butcher" blowing away the Indians at Lahore with a brutal knock of 138*. I wasn't much introduced to cricket before then, having spent most of my early childhood in England and then Saudi Arabia
The Pakistan vs India, Chennai test of 1999 was the moment I was formally introduced to cricket and most importantly to the Pakistani form of cricket.A test match that was evenly contested for most of its duration. Afridi making a career best of 141 courtesy of which Pakistan set India a challenging target of 271
To make a long story short, India were running away with the game with Tendulkar at its helm looking in supreme touch. India only needed 17 runs with 4 wickets in hand before Saqlain spun his magic. Tendulkar top edges....... Joshi gets caught and bowled..... Srinath does his best to defend the ball only to see it slowly roll between his legs and disturb the stumps.
Pakistan win a cliffhanger! The players do a lap of honour around the field with the Chennai crowd rightly applauding their effort.
In the meanwhile I'm dumbfounded. And my romance with the Pakistani brand of cricket starts.
Me and my brother, we both received cricketing knowledge mainly through our cousins. During the holidays, we used to sit around the bed after Fajr prayers and swallowed all the cricketing stories they could fill us up with. We used to listen wide-eyed to accounts of how Waqar used to swing the ball from the wide-mark onto the toes of the batsmen. How Wasim bamboozled the batsmen with his cunning deliveries. The Anwar-Sohail opening partnerships and their consistency. Mushtaq Ahmed and his unplayable deliveries in the post-lunch period on some past English tour etc etc.
In short, we came to know of the aggression and brilliance that the cricketing world came to associate with Pakistan. We both never looked back since.
Asian test championship 1999. 1st match at Calcutta. Pakistan are 26-6......Moin khan fights back and takes the total to 185...... Shoaib bowls Sachin first ball and the crowd is dumbstruck........ Anwar makes a career best 188*.Shoaib, Wasim and Saqlain strike and Pakistan win in India again! We subsequently go on to win the Asian test championship and stamp our authority as the greatest Sub Continent team
We conquer every front and are termed favourites for the 1999 edition of the World cup. The team plays some scintillating cricket throughout to reach the final. There, for the first time, I am introduced to the other side of Pakistan cricket. The ugly side of which there was more to come in the future. "My heroes can't play that way!" were the first words of disbelief that came out of my mouth.
Post-1999 we were still a major force in Cricket. Won Sharjah countless times. Fought bravely against the greatest side ever to grace the cricket field, Steve Waugh's Australians, although with limited succes. Lost in Karachi, for the first time ever, to the English team. That era had its shares of heart break and joy.
We were tagged as favourites for the 2003 World Cup purely based on the lineup we boasted of. It would be fair to say that on paper this squad was the greatest ever in the history of Pak cricket. Waqar was in terrific form, Akhtar at his peak and both Wasim and Anwar waning. But who cares? These are all superstars!
Against all odds, we are knocked out of the first round in the 2003 edition. Lost comprehensively to Australia, England and India. And I cried for the first time ever. Not because we were effectively out of the tournament, but because our "super stars" had let the nation down badly. The agony was unimaginable.
As a result, Wasim, Waqar and Anwar announce their retirements. They are sadly not given the farewell they deserved. Three of the greatest ambassadors of Pakistan cricket bow out meekly and in obscurity.
A complete overhaul takes place after the World Cup and young blood is brought in. We win in Sharjah and Inzi plays the knock of his life in Multan against Bangladesh. And is awarded the captaincy. He tastes his first success when Pakistan beat South Africa at home to win the test series. The image of Shoaib Akhtar cradling Kirsten's bloody face in his arms will remain imprinted on my mind forever. A new ray of hope and optimism rekindles in our hearts.
Come 2004 and we narrowly lose to India at home in both tests and ODI's. We lose the tests in Australia at the end of 2004 but fightback in the VB series. A tri-series we could easily have won had it not been for some major umpiring errors. The fans seemed satisfied with the team and so was I.
The Indian tour of 2005 was the highlight of Inzi's career as captain. We drew the Tests with a terrific win at Bangalore. Our bowlers bowled out the all-star Indian team in less than a day. And we clinched the ODIs with some superb all-round play. Afridi was given the nick "Boom Boom" in that very series by Ravi Shastri.
Fast forward to December 2005. England fresh from their Ashes win over Australia touch down in Pakistan. They are on top of the world but are brought back to earth in the very first test . Akhtar starred as Pakistan successfully defended 198. This match was the most emotional cricketing moment of my life. Our cricketers served as a medium in spreading joy and happiness on the face of those very Pakistanis who were rotting in despair after the devastation of October 8.
I loved my team like never before.
The Karachi test against India in early 2006 is unforgettable as far as I'm concerned.What a victory that was! 39/6 and we still won.
The summer English tour that year was a forgettable one. That paved the way for Pakistan and controversies to go hand in hand. Ball tampering, doping, infighting........ chased us till the 2007 World Cup. And it didn't end there.
Our World Cup campaign lasted only a week as we were knocked out by lowly West Indies and Ireland. The image of Inzamam "Big Inzi" in tears walking back to the pavilion still makes me sad. Not to forget the unfortunate death of our coach Bob Woolmer summed up an awful end to yet another world tournament for Pakistan.It couldn't get any worse as for the second time I cried myself to sleep.
Since that World Cup it took a lot of courage and determination to keep on cheering for this team. Pakistan cricket had touched depths unheard of. We collapsed all the time and consistently lost games from comfortable positions . There was a temporary respite when Younis was made captain. He brought in some excellent talent in the form of Umar Akmal, Mohammad Aamer, Fawad Alam and Saeed Ajmal.
We gradually started to climb up and became a lethal force when suddenly everything came down like a house of cards. The Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in Lahore and all cricketing activity was banned in Pakistan for an indefinite period. Younis was sacked soon after. There was more infighting, oath taking, doping allegations, double crossings, outbursts and more collapses. We blew it in Sydney from a winning position and lost all five ODIs to Australia.
A lot of die-hard Pak cricket fans I knew left and I was close to doing the same were it not for the glory days of yesteryears.
Afridi is named captain and he starts off my beating Aus in the T20's in a neutral "home" venue England. He has a brain fart and resigns from the captaincy soon after. Meanwhile, we record memorable Test wins over both Australia and England and are treated to a beautiful display of bowling by young Aamer and the cunning master, Asif. We end up losing the Tests to England. Match fixing allegations surface soon and ,like so many other loyal Pakistan fans, I am left pulling out my hair in frustration, anger and absolute disgust.
Afridi and co. show immense heart and courage to take the ODI series to the wire. We lose it but the fight shown by our team under immense pressure was a sight to behold. We proved ourselves upto the mark of our "Cornered Tigers" name.
We again showed a brilliant display of cricket against South Africa in yet another "home" series on a foreign land. Drew the series and took the ODIs to the wire.
Defeated New Zealand in NZ in both Tests and ODIs comprehensively despite the loss of some of our best players. The team had us hoping for a brilliant World Cup and by God they did just that!
On either side of Australia's 34 matches unbeaten WC run stood Pakistan. And that performance really made me proud. Save for some poor fielding, Pakistan dominated this World Cup. We topped the group and reached the Semi Finals against all odds. This Pakistan team and its fighting spirit was what I wished for and by the grace of Allah that was exactly what we were treated to.
I was fuming after the loss to India. But the words , " I would like to apologize to our nation...." by Afridi at the post-match presentation unknowingly brought a lump to my throat. I coughed and looked away but the realization had hit me. These honest bunch of hard working players hadn't played in front of their home crowd for 2 YEARS!
They had seen more controversies than most other cricketing nations put together. Yet they somehow managed to get their act together and rise to the occasion. And what a display of cricket that was! This was the Pakistani brand of cricket at its best and in all its glory. I salute Afridi and the boys
Since following Pakistan cricket I've seen many highs and many lows. Both terrific and poor performances coupled with some average ones. But I guess the mercurial nature of our cricket is the reason I've been such a die-hard lover of this game.
I wouldn't feel ashamed on wearing this jersey anytime in the future. It signifies the Pakistani style of cricket that is loved all over the world. If anything, wearing it would make me feel prouder than ever.