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A short cut and a blind alley

Why it is fun to support Pakistan

So, go ahead and call us seditonaries. Or whatever else suits you.

Pakistan zindabad. There, I said it. Now sue me. Or do whatever you deem is right, just like you labelled those Kahmiri university students in Meerut anti-national.

The choice, my friend, is all yours.

The other day, a couple of my colleagues and I clapped at our seats as Shahid Khan Afridi did what Shahid Khan Afridi does from time to time – remind you of just why you once fell in love with this sport, or a sporting contest in general. Against India (yes, our India), Afridi smoked a few sixes off Ravichandran Ashwin to beat the world champions in the last over. And momentarily, everything seemed right with the game. We cheered, many glared.

The glare had nothing to do with patriotism (misplaced, if it were), India, or the team’s precarious position in the Asia Cup after the loss. Hardly. The glare questioned our audacity at rooting for the ‘arch-rivals’ in a public space. For when we did it again a couple of days later, as Afridi began turning a lost cause around against Bangladesh, the piercing glances returned.

Come to think of it, those stares have been around since the beginning of my cricket-viewing – since a neighbour asked me not to return to his house after I had danced when Imran Khan hoisted a crystal globe. I was seven and of course didn’t understand the bile. Twenty-one years later, I still find it hard to.

How could you not have fallen in love with the Class of ‘92, consisting of boys handpicked off the streets by Imran (who later admitted that his drive to win the World Cup came from his fundless and yet-to-be-built cancer hospital)? How can you not adore a system that lays as much emphasis on talent-scouting fast bowlers from tape-ball cricket as the rest of the world does in structured pace academies?

It’s hard not to romanticise both the good and the ugly. Do you not feel deeply for a bunch of players that haven’t played in front their home fans for the last four years? Umar Akmal, for example, has represented Pakistan in 16 Tests and 93 ODIs. A home match for him has been everywhere from Yorkshire to Sharjah, Christchurch to Colombo. Everywhere but Pakistan.

Beyond the boundary and within as well, Pakistan cricket has been in a state of unrelenting turbulence for a long, long time.

But when an Akmal or an Afridi tell you why you mustn’t give up on them just yet, it’s impossible to resist the urge to stand up and applaud. Come Saturday, as they take on Sri Lanka in the final, we’ll perhaps be at it again.

So, go ahead and call us seditonaries. Or whatever else suits you.

Aditya is a principal correspondent based in Delhi 

aditya.iyer@expressindia.com

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