If the great Sir Neville Cardus were still alive, he would have turned giddy trying to think of some superlatives that do justice to Pakistan cricket. He would be writing endless panegyrics, tearing them up, and writing some more, only to rip them to smidgens, too. In the end, he would have given up trying to come with an appropriate set of words from his vaunted lexicon. He would have also concluded that you do not describe or analyse Pakistan, you watch them, you feel them and you just marvel at how marvellous they can be.
Pakistan were the first team to leave for England for the World Cup. Those of you who are on social media would know how they were mocked at the time and predicted to be the first one to leave England as well. The mockery made a lot of sense while Pakistan stayed true to their natural self in the ODI series against the hosts. The batsmen offered much optimism, but overall, Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men were shambolic. They were incompetent, naïve and were far from a side that could even manage a single win in the summer. Let us just admit that they were a bit s**t. If they couldn’t hold on to a simple catch, then playing at the World Cup was a waste of time – at least, that’s what the feeling was back then.
Let’s jump right back into the present. What do we see? We see they have insouciantly beaten South Africa and New Zealand. Remember when Pakistan couldn’t be backed to beat Afghanistan? Of course, you don’t. We see skipper Sarfraz, who had been the subject of some vile abuse for yawning, taking a stunning diving catch to his right to get rid of Ross Taylor. Remember when Pakistan couldn’t field? Of course, you don’t. We also see the batsmen not making a mess of a run-chase. Remember when Pakistan could go from 160/1 to 180 all out? Of course, you don’t. We also see the team management making the right decisions, like picking Harris Sohail and sticking with Shaheen Shah Afridi. Remember when Pakistan didn’t know who to play? Of course, you don’t.
“Jad satt vajji hove, bande nu akal tan hi aundi ae”. You’ll hear the saying a lot in Pakistan. It means that only after you’ve been wounded do you come back to your senses and see things better. Pakistan’s wounds were sustained in the ignominious defeat to India. They were shown the mirror in a cruel fashion and that really did them a world of good. It brought them some of their wisdom back. But there’s nothing impressive about needing to be tromped on by your bitter rivals to know what’s right and what’s not. Impressive is just how spectacularly a disjunct Pakistan have conflated and turned into a fully-functional machine overnight. That’s how they won the Champions Trophy a couple of years back. That’s also how they won the 1992 World Cup.
This is an esoteric quality that is exclusive to Pakistan cricket. They do not always play well but they somehow gather collective belief from somewhere to turn themselves into some kind of Gods who have outgrown the game and will not be stopped. They do not need form or planning or building, they just do it when they feel like it. They channel their inner Imran Khans and Javed Miandads at will and once that happens, others are mere spectators. It is times like these when you feel that this is Pakistan’s world and we are all living in it.
It’s almost as if the rules are different for Pakistan. Nature works differently for them. How? We do not know. Not even Sir Cardus would know. It is a mystery. There are those who would be against such mysterious forces powering a team to triumphs. But they don’t get it, do they? Cricket may or may not need the methods of Australia, England and India, but it certainly needs the magic of its most prized possession, Pakistan.