Archive for June 21st, 2009

Reuters: Afridi celebrates after hitting the winning runs.
Reuters: Afridi celebrates after hitting the winning runs.

Today, chants of “Pakistan Zindabad” resounded throughout the country, as Pakistan defeated Sri Lanka by eight wickets to become the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup Champions. It was, as Dawn noted, the first major title Pakistan has won in 17 years, and it comes at a time when the country faces a multitude of burgeoning problems. Pakistan’s team captain Younus Khan told reporters after today’s victory, “We were the underdogs and had less pressure, but we came good in the big games. It’s a credit to the country and to the team…This is a our gift to our nation. Hopefully, it will help cheer them up.” Cricket is the sport Pakistanis bleed for, and the team, [especially Shahid Afridi] are undoubtedly national heroes. Congratulations to Sri Lanka as well for an incredible game! Below, Shaheryar Mirza, a journalist based in Rawalpindi, further discusses today’s victory:

It’s true. A four hour cricket match can raise a nation out of the doldrums of war and economic despair. If only temporarily, the Pakistani nation can unite and bask in its glory on the global stage. In a trip around the streets of Rawalpindi, a microcosm for other cities around the country, there was a zeal and fervor only recently seen at political demonstrations. Only this time, there were song and dance to replace anger and frustration. As Pakistanis waved flags and pulled wheelies on their bikes it was reminiscent of what this country used to look like, and what it should look like more often.

In the last few weeks, Younus Khan has proved that he can raise an unpredictable, isolated yet talented team to the top of the sport. Many may argue that it is just 20/20 cricket and not a One Day or Test Series. But to counter these arguments one can just point back to the time that One Day’s were thought to be an aberration or a passing trend. Under the coaching of Intikhab Alam, Khan managed to extract a performance from the Pakistan cricket team that has not been seen for at least a decade. Pakistan’s last great triumph was at the 1992 World Cup and since their embarrassing loss in 1999 to Australia, the team has never looked the same.

What more can one say but BOOM BOOM. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase in the last few weeks I’d be a rich man. Shahid Afridi dazzled the cricketing world with his drifted yet pacy leg spin. Googly’s, the quicker ones, pure leg spin and the flipper, you name it, it was part of Afridi’s bowling arsenal. As cricket commentators would put it, he bamboozled the batsmen in this tournament and made many a top order batsman look amateurish. Through the first few matches, Afridi struggled to find form with the bat until his promotion up the order. The captain told him to play his natural game and Afridi’s natural game is exactly what makes his fans love him, but it is also his greatest weakness. Fortunately, once he was promoted, the cries of BOOM BOOM from the crowd were justified by the bat.

Afridi displayed a previously un-witnessed maturity, patience and class to his approach between the wickets. Gone was Afridi’s trademark: close-your-eyes, swing and just pray. He played deft cuts, quick singles and doubles and built his innings like a master batsmen. Yet he still managed to entertain the crowd with big hits, and with the crowd already on his side he could do no wrong. Afridi’s performance cannot be mentioned without highlighting the running catch he took against New Zealand to dismiss Scott Styris and what seemed to be a turning point in the match and Pakistan’s T20 campaign.

It would also be unfair to go on without highlighting Umar Gul’s effect on the tournament. Gul’s 12 wickets in five matches with a record-breaking performance of 5 for 6 were truly phenomenal. Batsmen seemed defeated before they even faced him. His reputation built during the first few matches preceded him, and in cricket, mental advantage is key to winning the battle between bat and ball. Gul managed to get the ball to start reversing by the 12th over, a feat apparently never seen by most of the cricketers participating in this tournament. Gul showed that it was his skill and superior bowling action that achieved the reverse swing and not ball tampering. No other team had a bowler that could match the consistency and lethal nature of his Yorkers.

Credit goes to the whole team as Younus Khan, after experimenting in the opening matches, settled on an opening pair in Kamran Akmal and newcomer Shahzaib Hassan. Akmal was consistent in providing Pakistan with a steady start in each innings. Shahzaib failed to make an outstanding impression, but he is young and shows promise. Younus Khan consistently put on 20 to 30 quick runs with a couple fifties throughout the tournament. Shoaib Malik played out his role as an orthodox batsman that could anchor Pakistan’s innings at any given time. Malik proved useful with the ball to fill up some of the middle overs and dry up the runs.

Saeed Ajmal turned out to be the silent hero for Pakistan. One of the leading wicket takers of the tournament, he was overshadowed by Umar Gul, but his performance with the ball contained the opposition’s runs and took wickets at regular intervals. He has proved to be a standout off-spinner for Pakistan with an impeccably disguised “doosra.”

Lastly, Abdul Razzaq proved to be Pakistan’s psychological trump card. His admission into the team re-energized the squad and made believers of a team which at the beginning only looked like they half-believed. He bowled disciplined spells that can only come with experience. Razzaq was that extra spark that the team needed to finish the job.

Pakistan’s number one weapon, though, was the heart and will to win. They played with a passion that had been missing from the team for years. This passion seemed to be fueled by their desire to uplift a bruised and battered nation. They had the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on their shoulders, and they carried it proudly. A team without a home-ground showed that they can turn any ground into their home territory.

It goes without saying, but this win was a gift for the Pakistani people and most importantly a gift for those internally displaced people of the Swat Valley. The sons of their land were the heroes of the Pakistan team. The people of the NWFP have been thrust onto the world stage for the wrong reasons, and now they can hold their heads up high and display their talent. Thanks to Younus Khan’s gift, the displaced people may have something to smile about, if only for a short while.

As Pakistani’s sing and dance throughout the night they can once again feel proud to be Pakistani. Cricket is after all, just a game. But in a country like Pakistan it’s a game that serves as an ambassador that every Pakistani can be proud of. Shahbash boys…shahbash.

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