Pakistan win shows what’s beautiful about the game
The weight of expectation is a funny thing: pressure is there where once there was none. The natural processes give way to the nagging thought at the back of your mind that your performance doesn’t befit your ranking.
That is one of two things can be gleaned from England’s capitulation at the hands of Pakistan in the last three weeks. The other is to appreciate just how well Australia did to manage the expectation of being regarded as the game’s elite for so long.
England remain as the official number one Test team in the world, despite their 3-0 drubbing in the United Arab Emirates. For Pakistan, a whitewash has lifted them up one place to number five, leapfrogging Sri Lanka, and only three points behind India and Australia in joint third.
But rankings don’t matter to the purist, nor must they matter much to Pakistan cricket right now. This victory is a cleansing of the soul for Pakistan cricket, which has risen above the ashes from a horrible 2010 both on and off the field.
Somewhere in Dubai right now, no one is remembering the fact three of their players disgraced the game 18 months ago. Nor do they care about the fact that their entire quota of talent is virtually ignored by the rich Twenty20 demigods from across the border.
Pakistan’s win against England was a matter of discipline over flash, which is a complete reversal of how Pakistan previously did things. Players like Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi mesmerised the mind, but did little to inspire their team beyond their own personal cause.
This team is full of no-names and probably will stay that way for the course of their careers. While Virat Kohli is making headlines for himself on and off the pitch in Australia, very few can appreciate the efforts of Azhar Ali to battle for nine hours to make 157 on a pitch that had previously seen 20 wickets fall for 240 runs.
The depressing notion is Azhar’s own compatriots may not be fully aware of his feats, given Pakistan do not host international cricket currently (and may not do so for a long time).
But let this be a lesson to how Pakistan cricket is changing its act. As their soft-spoken captain Misbah-ul-Haq rightly points out, greater challenges await.
The new Pakistan is not merely content to spin out teams in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but have spoken of their desire to challenge and defeat the very best in greener and seamier climes.
Words are merely soundbites, and much work will be needed to deliver Misbah’s ambitions. But the lack of glamour and the pain of Pakistan’s past is delivering a bright new future.
Even after this series, Pakistan may still be largely ignored like the pox. Whereas Indian cricket bleeds money from every orifice, Pakistan’s own identity has bled this last decade.
But something exciting is happening. Pakistan cricket has licked its wounds and embraced and thrived in their harsh reality that confronts them.
I just hope more people are there to appreciate it, for the ugly duckling may yet become a beautiful swan.
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