Cornered tigers roar once again
June 24, 2009 Leave a comment
A Pakistan with momentum is a beast that cannot be contained. England discovered that fact to their cost in 1992 at Melbourne, when Imran Khan’s cornered tigers sprung at their throats to seize the country’s first major global title. And now, a generation later but in a campaign of distinct and glorious parallels, Sri Lanka have also sampled the unstoppable alchemy that occurs when cricket’s most emotional and temperamental participants find a way to meld their ambitions to their deeds.
It doesn’t always end up this way. Two years ago against India, in the inaugural World Twenty20 final in Johannesburg, Pakistan blew their chance for glory when Misbah-ul-Haq choked on his emotions at the end of a stunning match-turning counterattack, and chose the wrong ball to flick over fine leg. And then, of course, there was Pakistan’s last appearance in the 50-over World Cup final, against Australia right here at Lord’s in 1999, when the conviction in the performance and the margin in the result – eight wickets – exactly mirrored today’s effect and upshot.
In fact, it is a decade and a day since Pakistan’s demolition at the hands of Australia, and only two players remain from that match. Abdul Razzaq bowled two overs that day for 13, having limped to 17 from 51 balls while batting at No. 3; Shahid Afridi flogged two fours in 16 balls, and wasn’t called upon to put his legspin into practice. Ten years and a thousand memories later, Razzaq and Afridi rose to the needs of the hour and turned themselves into the game’s critical performers. Like the identities of the teams in this poignant final, it was a detail that can only have been scripted by the fates.
“Me, Shahid and Razzaq, we were chatting with the guys: ‘Please this time we will hold our nerves and make our final touch’,” said Younis, who added how surprised he had been by the maturity of Afridi’s batting. “He took singles,” he said in admiration of a man who added calculation to his aggression, and paced the chase to perfection. Two lusty swipes into the stands thrilled a packed Lord’s, but not half as much as the scruffy leg-bye with which the title was sealed. Rare is the Pakistan team that puts substance over style, but when it occurs, the overall effect is electrifying.
As for Razzaq, he had his own reasons to impress – his omission from the last World Twenty20 in South Africa was the catalyst for his defection to the ICL, which in turn led to his two-year exile from international cricket. He cut through the red tape last month, but only returned as a replacement for the injured Yasir Arafat last week. Nevertheless, he slipped effortlessly into his time-honoured utility role, this time as an under-rated old hand to balance the youthful aggression of Wasim Akram’s acolyte, Mohammad Aamer. After nine deliveries of the final, old and young had claimed a pair of ducks between them. And those lead weights of expectation had been alchemised into gold.
Younis has now stepped aside from Twenty20 cricket, much as Imran Khan bowed out on a high in 1992. For all his quiet insistence that this competition lacks the prestige of the 50-over World Cup, he knows that he and his players have achieved something wonderful, and every bit as lasting as the memories forged by Imran, Miandad, Wasim and Mushtaq, way back in the mists of time.
“I’m the second Khan winning a World Cup for Pakistan, so I’m very proud of my Khans,” said Younis. “This is my dream. I dreamed all the time of lifting the World Cup. My thinking in all my career is that I will be remembered for a team like 1992. I was not in the Imran Khan team, and this is a dream come true. I’m really happy. Though this World Cup is Twenty20, at least we won our second World Cup. This is a gift to our whole nation.”
He is not wrong. To get a sense of how much Pakistan needed this victory, you have to look beyond the bedlam in the stands at Lord’s where a shimmer of bouncing green shirts gave a surface-level glimpse of the euphoria, and instead burrow deep into the parks and gullies of Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar, where a nation starved of joy has been given the timeliest succour. It is arguable, in fact, that there has been no more timely sporting victory since a newly unified South Africa won the Rugby World Cup back in 1995.
Where Francois Pienaar’s Springboks drew a newly unified nation ever more tightly together, the achievement of Younis’s men has been to help slow the fragmentation of a state that is rapidly being considered by the world at large to have failed. Both the captain and his Man of the Match hail from the troubled North West Frontier Province, and Afridi himself from the Khyber Agency, the symbolic frontline of Pakistan’s War on Terror. Chaos can seem at times to be embedded in the Pakistani DNA, but as both men showed in their performances in this tournament, it does not have to be this way.
“If you see the whole nation, where law and order is not good, we are from them,” said Younis. “How can we be consistent? With these kind of things going for us, if you see our cricket it is all the time suffering from a lot of things. After that we are still winning the World Cup. It is a great achievement for us. I am requesting to all of the countries you must come to Pakistan. Everybody knows law and order is not good but it is not our fault.”
For the moment, any prospect of cricket resuming in Pakistan is futile, despite the joy of this occasion and the hope for the future that it generates. But in the shorter term, what we witnessed at Lord’s today was the will of a troubled nation to pull in the same direction. From the fight within the team to the reaction around the stands, it was clear how much the notion of Pakistan still means. Next summer, the prospect exists of England hosting their “home” Test series against Australia. Today was a taster of the euphoria that would bring. It must be allowed to happen.