June Issue 2015

By | Sports | Published 4 years ago

A  generation of young Pakistani cricket fans was growing up thinking Gaddafi Stadium is little more than a venue for shaadi halls. No longer.  Finally, cricket has come home.

Six years after the Sri Lankan team was attacked by terrorists, Zimbabwe’s cricketers return to the scene of the crime, the scene of our everlasting shame.  Cynics — and how do you cope with the madness that is Pakistan without resorting to cynicism — would say that Zimbabwe hardly counts as an international team given their perpetual minnow status. But ability at a sport bears no relation to the risk the team was taking just by showing up.  There were also some murmurs, obviously from those doubting our jazba for cricket, that the fans would stay away from what was surely going to be a mismatch.

The naysayers don’t know a thing. They were wrong on both counts. Fans were willing to wait in line — not a quality our country is known for — for hours in the 40-degree plus Lahore heat. And the full houses for both T20s were treated to exciting matches that went into the final over.

The first T20 was an emotional one for many reasons. Even with the unexpected call-ups of the tried-and-failed Shoaib Malik and Mohammed Sami, a majority of our team was playing an international match at home for the very first time. Any time we get too pessimistic we need to keep in mind that ours is a team of nomads, playing in whichever country will have us.

The result was almost besides the point. What mattered was the crowd, so thankful to taste international cricket again that it came bearing placards and jerseys supporting the Zimbabweans. Theirs is a nation that has known exile too, thanks to the ruthlessness of its ruler Robert Mugabe who tore apart both the nation and its cricket team. Their empathy and courage in being the first to return will not be quickly forgotten. It may be premature to hope that others — India in December is being whispered about — will follow, but a line in the sand has been drawn. Another team must surely follow soon, most likely sympathetic neighbours like Bangladesh or Sri Lanka.

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Yet, our cricketers are professionals and they had a job to do. Coming fresh off a whitewash in our four T20s and ODIs in Bangladesh, we had a lot to prove. Consider the work only half done. We may have won both the T20s but did so unconvincingly. The bowling lacked any menace and the Zimbabweans were allowed to score alarmingly freely. The fielding, as always, was a shambles. The batting was little better, with a fragile middle order being done no favours by Shoaib Malik’s recall. His domestic form notwithstanding, this must surely be the last time he dons the green jersey.

The saving grace were our openers. Mukhtar Ahmed, making his international debut, shone in both matches. We have been fooled for too long by openers starting out well before their weaknesses are found out — Nasir Jamshed, anyone — but at the very least Mukhtar should have been selected for the ODIs so we could get a better look at him. Ahmed Shehzad, a player who is in equal parts thrilling and frustrating, for once was the perfect foil for his partner.

It was fitting that the first match at home since 2009 ended with a Shahid Afridi boundary. No man has encapsulated better than Afridi the mercurial nature of Pakistani cricket.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s June 2015 issue

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.