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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

World Cup 2019, Sarfraz and Co: On a wing and a prayer

It’s the mindspace that allows Pakistan to forget and move on. It’s the mindspace that keeps producing more bad days. It’s the mindspace that makes the fans even sigh with a smile on bad days.

Written by Sriram Veera | Updated: June 1, 2019 11:29:11 am
It was Pakistan’s 11th successive loss in one-dayers. (Source: AP)

It doesn’t matter whether they win or lose but no other team make you grin and shake the head in disbelief like Pakistan. When they win, usually driven by a junoon that the word ‘passion’ doesn’t fully convey, they make you stand up and applaud. Like the Chennai crowd once did. When they lose without a fight, looking out of their depth in the bargain, they still trigger smiles. As they did in Nottingham.

Nottingham’s new mayor is Liaquat Ali, born in Mirpur in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It’s a fact shared by a local West Indian fans. “We are trouncing them at their home!” he shouted out. The Pakistani fans behind him smiled. Almost the entire stadium is filled with Pakistani fans; there is dhol and shouts of “Jeetega bhai jeetega, Pakistan jeetega”. Everything gets silenced rather quickly as Pakistan lose wickets in a clump.

There is that uneasy smile on most faces. “Bhai, chaar baje nikla tha London sey, aur hamare shahzaade toh…” He doesn’t have to finish; his mates erupt in that rumbling laugh. No fan is really cussing even though the familiar incest-themed oaths spray out of the mouths. It’s not anger or even disappointment that’s on display — that will be manufactured in the television studios and in print.

Humour leads to memes. Some were being made right there at the ground. A fan says, “Did you know that in 1992, Pakistan vs West Indies were the second match of the tournament?” Oh, OK, where is this leading, you wonder, and the reply comes: “West Indies thrashed Pakistan in that game too. And we won the World Cup.” The punchline comes from his friend. “Which means, Sarfraz will be our PM in 2034!” More laughter in the stands.

Sarfraz Ahmed is unlike many Pakistan captains of the past. Very earthy, he could easily be one of the guys in the Karachi stadium, watching the game. If Misbah-ul-Haq was known for his thinking captaincy — how he would plan out spells for his bowlers, almost to ball-to-ball details — Sarfraz, thus far, hasn’t shown us anything similar.

But he has shown his street-smartness in other ways. Before the semi-final against England in that 2017 Champions Trophy, he told the team, “Yeh darpok team hai, when wickets fall, balla nahi uthega.” Pakistan won that game, of course.

He can be full of self-doubt. He can call up his idol Moin Khan from last World Cup and fret, “Bhai, Waqar Younis (coach) is asking me to open the batting tomorrow against South Africa. You know I’m not used to batting there. If I fail, I will be out of the Pakistan team forever. That’s what they want. Main kya karoon?”

Or as he did after a crushing loss to India early on in the Champions Trophy 2017, when he made a fretful call to his mentor Nadeem Omar. “I told him, I couldn’t see the same confident captain I see in PSL. It seems you are inhibited, and not taking the calls. Tell the team, seniors or whoever, that on field you are in charge, and you are not going to take any slacking,” Omar said.

He is known to come out shinning, when dealing with a mini crisis or is surrounded by self-doubts. He hit a 49 and a 100 in the 2015 World Cup after chat with Moin, and in the Champions Trophy, he shrugged off his blues, and turned into a leader. That seems to be the pattern: Self-doubts, inhibition, and then the breakout.

“Bad day,” was how he put the debacle against West Indies. He must have said it five times, may be. The other was about the toss playing a role in those games that start at 10.30 am, as conditions could play a role in the first hour-and-a-half. Then came a query from a journalist, “You must have known West Indies would attack with bouncers, you have been here in the country for a while now, have you practised for the short ball?” Sarfraz nodded earnestly and added that it just went wrong due to a couple of soft dismissals and couple of bad shots — and ended with “bad day”.

It’s the mindspace that allows Pakistan to forget and move on. It’s the mindspace that keeps producing more bad days. It’s the mindspace that makes the fans even sigh with a smile on bad days.

They have a match against England coming up in the same venue but the fans aren’t unduly worried. “Bhai, see the pitch they are going to play is the one where England made 481. It might be same ground but the pitches are different in the way they prepare.” The consensus emerged after five minutes of to-and-fro amongst the fans. “We need two things: Pakistan wins the toss and bowl; the pitch gets flatter by the time we come to bat. And remember, we always start slowly before we turn it on. It’s a 50-day tournament. Bahut time hai, abhi.”

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