To expect Pakistan to win tomorrow’s semifinal against Australia would be wishful thinking at best. To expect Pakistan to win this tournament again, in a memorable repeat of last year’s victory, would be equally foolish. This team hasn’t shown any semblance of collective ability all tournament long – at least, not the kind you expect from an international outfit. They stumbled while beating Bangladesh, sank against Australia, dropped the ball to lose to England, lost their nerve versus New Zealand, and the common consensus seems to be that South Africa defeated South Africa, not Pakistan. It is no wonder then, that their position in the semifinal is nearly miraculous. Muaj’za e St. Lucia, posted a friend on Facebook. Indeed.
However, as nobody can ever forget, and as the team itself likes to remind everyone, this is not a team with a plan in mind. As Osman Samiuddin wrote in the preview to last year’s semifinal:
“They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a ‘Pakistan’: that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don’t plan or account for it.”
It is an unbearable cliche, of course, but like all cliches it is partly true and partly false. Yes, Pakistan are surely the most messed up team in world cricket, but they must be doing something right. Is it an aberration that Umar Gul is the best T20 bowler in the world, that Afridi and Ajmal strike greater fear in the middle overs than Murali and Mendis? Were Afridi’s successive half centuries last year not worthy matchwinning efforts, and doesn’t Salman Butt’s contribution of 191 in this tournament (third-highest aggregate) deserve praise? They all do. Pakistan are in the semifinal only because they had a better net run rate than New Zealand, and they earned it. Statistics may often deceive, but here they reflected the simple reality that Pakistan scored more runs an over than New Zealand did, and because both teams had the same number of points, Pakistan qualified. That’s it, really. It doesn’t mean they were a better team.
The cliche of uncertainty surrounding Pakistan is often perceived as a good thing by their fans – for the wrong reasons, I would argue. This uncertainty lends itself to false expectations to the point where fans want the team to consistently beat the odds, a sentiment that is fundamentally contradictory. By definition, improbable victories are rare and unlikely. If the odds are stacked against Pakistan, that shouldn’t LIFT expectations, that should LOWER them. It is that perspective that helps fans like myself derive joy and not pain from following the team. We don’t expect the team to win every match, we know that they’re not the best in the world. We know that they are hopelessly flawed, allegedly fighting over petty issues like fielding positions near sexy spectators and taking oaths against their own captain. We know that Razzaq isn’t fit enough to bowl more than a few overs anymore, that our batsmen (by and large) don’t have good technique. We accept that Kamran Akmal will drop more catches than he takes. That’s reality.
That’s why being a Pakistani fan is not an exercise in masochism – it’s about supporting the underdog. It’s not bittersweet pleasure through pain, it’s the unadulterated joy of watching no-hopers give millions hope. It’s a celebration of sport at its finest, an instution that allows us to dream when we have no right to, that brings a divided country together and evokes people to sing and dance on the streets where terror previously reigned.
Pakistan won’t win tomorrow. They’re up against Australia, who are at their most dominant in years, notching up victories with all the nonchalance, brute power, and determination of Steve Waugh’s great outfit. This time their tactics aren’t mental disintegration – perhaps muscular coordination would be a better way to descibe their plan. Power in batting, pace in bowling. Pakistan, in contrast, will probably be playing only one pure pace bowler and trusting the majority of their overs to spin. Their batting will be more bravado than brawn, and any successful chase will realistically need at least one innings of individual brilliance. The only factors in Pakistan`s favor are that St. Lucia is spin friendly, Afridi seems to be recovering form, and the bowling combination is set.
So, really, to tune in tomorrow in hopes of a win would be madness.
What can we say…this is Pakistan.