It’s hard for other people to understand what a victory in cricket means to us. Why there will be hundreds of thousands of people out in the streets of our cities and in the dirt lanes of our villages, dancing, celebrating, causing traffic jams and shouting their hearts out, why fans across the world glued to their 52 inch TVs or their cracked 14 inch laptops vacillated between high pitched screaming and cheering, and crying (tears of joy, of course) – I mean, great match and all, you might say, but aren’t these Pakistanis kind of going a bit overboard?
And I’ll tell you, after I’ve wiped my red sniffling nose on my sleeve, that no, we are not. This victory (in the ICC Champions Trophy FINAL, against INDIA who we never beat in finals, INDIA a team much better and more experienced than our fledgling one ranked the lowest at the start of the tournament) is not just about cricket.
Don’t get me wrong. Pakistanis love cricket. There are many things that divide our nation – religion, politics, ethnicity, language – but our love for cricket falls in silky folds like a great green flag over these differences, covering the gaps, smoothing the creases and binding us together in shiny goodwill and patriotism.
On my travels around the country for work, I spotted it everywhere: from the slightly terrifying games being played at the edge of mountains along narrow roads in Kashmir to the matches in the smooth green fields of Islamabad, from the slightly sacrilegious one I saw in Sialkot at the edge of a small cemetery to the ones that take place in the sewer-strewn grounds in slums in Karachi – you’ll find cricket everywhere. It brings us together, and that’s no small thing for a country like ours where our political and religious leaders try very hard to do just the opposite.
Today’s match, though, was not just about cricket.
It was much more than that, and if you listened to the Pakistani cricketers after the match, they said it quite simply, succinctly, sincerely – ‘our nation needed it’.
For Pakistani Muslims living in this era, pride in our identity isn’t something that is being handed around freely. We’re constantly bombarded with negative news about who we are and where we’re from – every time there is a terrorist incident, our hearts constrict as we obsessively refresh the news pages and hope that it’s not a Muslim, and then when it inevitably is (because if the media brands it as terrorism then it is always Islamic extremism and if it’s some white guy then it’s not really terrorism and the news slides out from media focus very soon), and then we hope that there are no links, no matter how tenuous or old, to Pakistan, and then if there are, then we cringe and sigh and hope nobody starts yelling at us on a bus in London or some street in Philadelphia. Every other month a confidence-boosting article comes up, telling us that our country is the fourth-worst in the world for tourists, the second worst passport to have, poor, corrupt, performing terribly on this indicator and even worse on that one. A decade ago people had no idea where Pakistan is on the map – “middle east, right?” “oh, yeah, near India!”, and now they have a better idea about where the country is located but a much narrower perception of how it is – unsafe, primitive, poor, tragic.
And of course, it isn’t just the media. I’m not an ostrich with my head stuck in the sand – there are many times when my heart weeps and bleeds at things that happen in my country – hate speech being spewed through the public speakers of mosques, virulent intolerance against any perceived or real difference in thoughts and beliefs, mass blind following of coldblooded murderers, corrupt laws that are abused to persecute minorities, and the list goes on …
So no, we’re a developing country and we have our problems – illiteracy, poverty, inequality, take your pick, and yes, sometimes the positives get drowned by the negatives, special thanks to internal and external media…
And then there comes a day like today, when millions of viewers are rewarded for their resilience, their will to survive and persist, to smile and exist, rewarded for their faith in the team (because while many of us try to delude ourselves before every cricket match – especially matches against archrivals India – that we don’t care, saying out loud nonchalantly, pessimistically, oh, we’ll probably lose anyways, in vain attempts to mentally prepare ourselves for heartbreak – deep down, all of us always believe, and fervently hope for our team’s success).
I used to be a passionate cricket fan till the World Cup of 2003, in which Pakistan performed abysmally and I took it so personally that I pretty much stopped watching the sport. I would see matches sporadically and every now and then, get invested in a series against my better judgment, but largely, I’ve managed to stay at the outskirts of true fandom, the periphery of passion.
Today was different.
I knew about three of the 11 players in our team but by the end of the match, I was in love with about 7 of them. I have never been so proud of how we played. Absolute perfection – I cannot remember a performance as flawless as this (in my less than impressive decade of following cricket). We were so professional – combining the stereotypical raw talent of Pakistani players with the less familiar discipline, patience and calmness of great teams who stand firm through storms and blast their way forward, seizing every opportunity and creating it when it doesn’t quite appear. And we played like a TEAM. Rather than having one or two stars supporting a sagging midline batting order or atrocious fielders or haywire bowlers, absolutely each and every player put in their 110% and carried us through to a heartwarming, throat-burning, tear-jerking incredibly impressive victory.
And to top off the brilliant performance, at the end of the match all our prayers were so humble, crediting one another and their managers and coaches, displaying great sportsmanship, and fully recognizing the impact of their success on their country and their countrymen…
So really, hats off to you, Pakistan. You gave us a fantastic game of cricket, a superb victory, and most importantly, you gave us something that’s hard to come by these days – you made us feel proud to be Pakistani.
Photo source: Getty Images