Wahab Riaz, Pakistan’s hero from the last game against England, has a filmy World Cup 2019 back story. The man whose blazing three wickets at Nottingham the other day silenced, at least for now, that migraine-inducing ‘Cup is coming home’ chants at venues, wasn’t part of Pakistan’s provisional World Cup squad that was announced last month. After the snub, Wahab was shattered, his family stressed. But no one gave up. Wahab’s father, who died in 2017, had kept telling his wife that their son was sure to play the Cup. Wahab, meanwhile, had been around long enough to know there was always a window of opportunity, and also a back-door entry possible, when it came to World Cup squads.
All his waking hours were spent thinking about ‘that’ phone call. And even when asleep he would get Cup dreams. “Some days I would be meeting Micky Arthur (coach) and on other days I would be meeting Saifi (captain Sarfraz Ahmed). Some days they would neglect me and on some days they would select me,” Wahab had said. And then he got another dream, a special one featuring the chairman of selectors Inzamam ul Haq. “It had Inzibhai calling me and telling me that this was my last chance and you are going for the World Cup,” he said. Then the dream came true. Inzibhai actually called. Wahab recalls the conversation and that inevitable Inzi wit.
Inzamam: Tu jara raha (You are going).
Inzamam: Pindi mai ek match hai, wahan.
Inzamam: Kahan kya, tu World Cup ja raha hai.
Now, that’s the feel good story and like everything in Pakistan cricket, there is always the flip side, the feel-sick story. Pakistan television has these long-winding cricket discussion shows that go on for hours. They don’t dodge any issues. There is one popular show involving two veteran cricket hacks. One of them doesn’t believe the ‘dream’ story. He talks about a trip that Wahab took to Karachi for the Ramazan tournament organised by former Pakistan wicket-keeper Moin Khan and how he was in the team the next day. They speak about how Moin happens to be Sarfraz’s mentor and how the Pakistan World Cup skipper follows his orders to the T. Besides, Sarfraz and Wahab too are close friends. (Look for a riotous video of the two in a car, singing their guts out, a recording on phone, an ear-piercing rendition of “Dulhe ka sahra suhana lagta hai ..” from Dhadkan.)
They also hint at Inzamam’s proximity to Riaz and how he was a special guest at the pacer’s village when he got married.
So was this a case of favouritism? Wahab was asked about it. His answer: “Koi keh raha hai sifarishi hun, koi keh raha hai fluke lag gaya hai … chalo thik hai I am fluke .. kya kar sakte hain .. bas mere liye dua kariye. (Some people say I made it because of influence, some people say it was a fluke. Let people think it was a fluke.. just pray for me”)
Bradman, Don and Don’ts
This most Contradictory quote of the World Cup goes to the Asian Bradman, the Pakistan run-machine, Zaheer Abbas. Speaking to a website, he was asked about people calling Babar Azam Pakistan’s Virat Kohli. Abbas made a face. “Allah kare woh Kohli bane, Bradman bane, hamari yehi dua hai. (Let God make him a Kohli, let God make him a Bradman. That is my prayer) But one shouldn’t say such things. Babar is a very good player, I have said in the past he is very consistent. Toh Kohli-Vohli hamare liye koi important nahi hai. Hamare liye Babar important hai. (For us Kohli does not matter. Babar is important) If he scores well, he is bigger than Bradman for us.” Well, so he can’t be Pakistan’s Kohli but bigger than Bradman? Forget it. Next question. You were called the Asian Bradman, weren’t you? “That was in 1971. It was my first match in England, a tour game, where I scored 111. Times had written: Meet Asian Bradman from Pakistan. Uss journalist ko daad deni padegi.”
On sidelines of cricket summit
Strange geopolitical alliances get formed over the rank peripheral and trifling happenings surrounding the World Cup, while on social media. Twitter worked up a nice frenzy when the loose cannon Tarek Fatah launched into Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed about his shalwar-kameez and blazer when all the captains met the Queen. The Pakistan skipper found unexpected support from India’s twitterati joining chorus with Pakistanis defending his sartorial choice, with several Indians piping up about how one must take pride in one’s traditional attire, some even wishing Virat Kohli had chosen ethnic-wear, and not the mundane suit. Gandhi and Vajpayee at UN were invoked as Ind+Pak > Empire snobbery. This subcontinental solidarity lasted a week, before ICC attempting to infuse light fun into the assembled teams, posted a video where Afghanistan’s portly wicket keeper Ahmad Shehzad did some Bollywod-styled hip-shakes to ‘Aaj ki Party’, a Salman Khan-number from the cross-border emo-fest Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Expectedly, some Indians were flattered and lent their thumbs-up, even as several Twitter followers from Pakistan crinkled their noses at the jowly jig, pointing out that the World Cup debutants were yet to win a match: Ind+Afg > Pak. Shahzad of course wasn’t angling for some grand coalition consolidation, mimicking an Indian and gaining props for his desi moves quite distinct from the graceful Afghan Attan. While Rashid Khan joined him in the half-minute video, the effervescent Shahzad even noticed his captain Gulbadin standing around looking part tickled, part stricken by Shahzad’s thumkaas. He wrapped up the show striking (affably) Gulbadin and urging him to dance, and spinning him off-balance on his axis.