The autograph books are soaked,the children are drenched and the performances of their favourite cricket team have been soggy. Yet,a bunch of strong-willed supporters wait outside Edgbaston on Thursday for the Pakistan team bus to arrive. When it does and the players in fluorescent and green descend,they cheer vociferously. Even as they stream right past,without once paying them heed.
Most make their way back,dejected. This is not the first time their team has let them down,they say,and it wont be the last either. But a few staunch fans stay rooted to their spots. We will be acknowledged at the end of the practice session,these add,doing their best to pacify one other.
Two such fans are brothers Adnan and Moin Mirza. They drove down down from Derby,some 40 miles north of Birmingham,just for this moment. We got to see Misbah,didnt we?, says Moin,delighted. Weve decided to stay back in Birmingham to get tickets for the Pakistan-India match. I heard they are quite easy to get now that our team is out. What a thrill that will be, adds Adnan,whose tee-shirt aptly shouts the words,BELIEVE THE HYPE.
Some,such as the Mirza brothers,surely believe the hype surrounding such a fixture. But many others,including prominent former players and Pakistani journalists,feel that an Indo-Pak tie is not what it once used to be. The gorge in quality between the two sides is greater than ever,they say,with India already having qualified for the Champions Trophy semifinal on the back of two crushing wins and Pakistan already knocked out without once scoring 200 in two attempts.
So,not only has the most spoken-about group game of this Champions Trophy become an inconsequential one,a dead rubber,the worrying factor for many is that the most celebrated rivalry in world cricket has perhaps lost its sheen. Just ask former Pakistan captain Mushtaq Mohammad,who is still unsure of visiting the stadium despite just living down the road from it.
I dont see any point in witnessing Pakistans talent if technically they are naive and mentally they are zero, says Mohammad,one of five brothers to play for his country and also a long standing holder of the youngest Test centurion record. Im sorry to say this,but they are worthless. That is the failure of Pakistan cricket. Do they really not know how to do simple things like reading the situation of the game? I can do it better than them when I am watching their matches in front of my telly.
On his television screen,Mohammad must have noticed that in their two Champions Trophy games against the West Indies and South Africa,Pakistan have been bowled out for 170 and 167,respectively. And out of those 22 individual batting innings,14 have ended in single digits. At the Oval against the Caribbean side,only opener Nasir Jamshed and Misbah-ul-Haq managed the feat and here against the Proteas,the same two were joined by Umar Amin and Wahab Riaz.
At a total loss
Itll be nice and of great help if everyone in the top and middle order contribute with runs. I would like to tell them not to be afraid of difficult situations. They should learn to get around their fears, Misbah had said before the South Africa game. Nobody is justifying their places in the team and nobody is getting runs for Pakistan, the captain added with his head in his hands a day after the defeat. We are a total loss.
Mohsin Khan,the former Pakistan coach and a buddy to the captain,echoed Misbahs sentiments in Islamabad on Thursday. I have asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohsin is quoted as saying. I will ask him to remove all those people who are not sincere and those who have harmed Pakistan cricket. Abdul Majid Bhatti,a veteran journalist from the publication Jung currently on tour in Birmingham,however,wishes Mohsin will request Nawaz Sharif for one more thing.
Find a way to bring international cricket back to Pakistan. The current turmoil and the security situation is crippling our cricket, says Bhatti. That is the biggest difference between India and Pakistan. The reason one is flourishing and the other floundering is due to the love of the home fans. This team needs to play in front of their people to be confident abroad. Umar Akmal made his debut four years ago. Hes yet to play at home.
He is right. Not once in 16 Tests and 71 ODIs has he played in Pakistan.
Away from home and in neutral venues against India,however,Pakistan still have a record to boast about. In 67 matches,they have won 38 and lost 27. In England,however,they have played just twice. Here they are 1-1. The Champions Trophy 2004 win for Pakistan,the 1999 World Cup win for India
I remember that World Cup game in Manchester clearly. India won it but it was us who reached the finals. Those were the days. Evenly matched sides,even contests and two great teams. Now Dhonis side is great and Misbahs isnt, says Adnan,still waiting outside the stadium. But India vs Pakistan is all that matters to us now. Be assured,if they dont step it up against the Indians on Saturday,I will be the one booing them.
Misbah was booed by Pakistani fans here on Monday as well. He was asked about it later. His answer neatly sums it all up. What can I say? That is Pakistan cricket. One day its zindabad,next day its boos. Supporters are like that, he said. But when we produce this sort of performances,I think they have the right to say this.