Weekly Sports Newsletter: Good old Pakistan back, and so is cricket’s delightful unpredictability

Dear Readers,

What has been the most important development of this T20 World Cup? That good old Pakistan is back. The notoriously inconsistent but outrageously talented team has finally come alive. After a long time, Pakistan put on the world stage an exquisite collection of entertaining batsmen, wily spinners, sultans of speed and played a brand of cricket that fills stands and crowds couches.

And again like many times in the past, just when the world thought Pakistan seemed invincible, they dutifully lost a match that was half-way into their pocket.

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Every sport needs an enigmatic team to enrich its narrative, cricket for years had Pakistan. As if carrying the burden to keep the sport unpredictable and exciting, they imploded when the finish line was just a stride or two away. The wild child of international cricket lived up to its image, and continued to be a complex riddle. Pakistan showed they can’t be written off or can be categorised as some blue-chip stock. .

With due apologies to the heart-broken Pakistan fans, their team, till the last three overs of the semi-final, looked so Australian. The ones from late 90s and 2000s who clinically scooped out the suspense from play to make cricket close to boring.

Pakistan this past month or so were winning everything. Their bowling had deadly variety, the batting sat deep and every game had a new man walking away with man of the match award. Till the league stage they were the tournament’s Burj Khalifa. Within weeks, the dark horse had got itself an aura. When Asif Ali walked in after Babar, Rizwan, Fakhar, Malik and Hafeez you were reminded of Symonds’s dreadful march to the wicket after Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, Hussey, Watson were back in the hut.

Had Hasan Ali taken the catch, Mathew Wade failed to connect his audacious scoop and Babar gone on to lift the Cup with an all-win record, it would truly have been the dawn of Naya Pakistan. But do fairytales in sports have “lived happily ever after” endings? No, actually never. The burden of expectations invariably takes a heavy toll on the young teams that have enjoyed instant success. Running, falling, learning, rising and running again – history says that’s the sequence that makes iconic teams.

The good news for Pakistan, and world cricket is – this team is a throwback to the country’s golden era. They bring to mind Imran Khan’s “corner tigers”. On the brink of elimination in the 1992 World Cup, The Khan would turn up wearing a T-shirt with a Tiger printed on it at the toss of a do-or-die game. Commentator Ian Chappell would get inquisitive: “I thought you were the Lion of Lahore, what’s this? Imran would reply: “I want my team to play like a cornered tiger. You know that’s when it is most dangerous.”

This team has a cast of characters who have been repeatedly written off. Imran, as twitter told us, was tuned in. He would have seen a bit of his team in Babar’s men.

Like in 1992, no one gave Pakistan a real chance to win this time. Babar was called too tame to be a captain, Rizwan was labelled as misfit, Fakhar unfit and Asif a ‘sifarishi”. Imad, Malik and Hafeez were not even in the original squad.

The world remains reluctant to tour Pakistan – New Zealand panicked on match eve, England made excuses. India didn’t play them, IPL was out of bounds. This was a team where hardly anybody had played a home game. Pakistan was surely “cornered”. At the T20 World Cup, they showed they were tigers, they were dangerous and they were Pakistan of Old.

And that’s a great start for this young team. Before they dream of being Naya Pakistan they need to be Purana Pakistan first.

The Indian Express reporters captured the Pakistan story with few inspiring profiles.

Sriram Veera wrote about the player who in his early days would slip out onto the narrow street at his old house to play cricket. Today he lives in a lane named after him: Mohammad Rizwan Street.

Shamik Chakrabarty, from the sidelines of the T20 World Cup, gave the back story of Pakistan’s new finisher Asif Ali. Ahead of the 50-over World Cup, Ali’s daughter Dua Fatima succumbed to cancer. A day after the funeral, Ali joined the Pakistan squad in England.

Sandip G recalled the journey of Shadab Khan, the leggie who in the semi-final got the wicket of his hero Steve Smith. Khan didn’t know how to celebrate since the boys in his hometown still call him Mianwali ka Steve Smith.

For India and Pakistan this has been a stressful few weeks. With both out of contention, they can now sit back with Coke and popcorn to enjoy the fight between the two other neighbours who beat them. Australia vs New Zealand. That can be fun.

Do write back with your feedback

Sandeep Dwivedi

National Sports Editor

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