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Why the boys didn’t play well? Hyper critical analysts, death of decency could have pulled down Pakistan World T20 cricketers

Weekly Sports Newsletter: Ever thought why Roger Federer could hit those winners on match point? Maybe, it's because the Swiss fans don't hyperventilate when he loses, they also don't have a Match ka Mujrim kind of show.

Pakistan's Babar Azam gestures to umpire Rod Tucker during the T20 World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan in Melbourne, Australia. (AP)

The boys didn’t play well, not once but twice. Pakistan first lost to India, and later to Zimbabwe. It’s been a nightmare from the fans in green – humiliation was followed by harakiri. The manure has hit the ceiling like never before. If one was keen to see a nation collectively lose its head, a quick peek next door was recommended.

Historically both India and Pakistan fans aren’t known to show grace in defeat. Of late, their ‘public display of hate’ has worsened. Those irrational abusive comments uttered in the heat of the moment from the living room couch back in the day, are now making it to mainstream television, websites and apps. Going ‘live’ post-match has resulted in the death of decency.

Like the TV boom of the 90s in India, Pakistan is witnessing a youtube revolution. In June this year, Pakistan’s leading daily Dawn quoted Google’s Country Director, Farhan Qureshi, in an article about the phenomenal growth of the popular video platform.

Pakistan now has about 4,500 youtube channels with more than 100,000 subscribers, a growth of 45 per cent. There was also a 140 per cent year-on-year rise in the number of channels making over Rs 1 million annually.

Cricket has jumped on the youtube bandwagon in Pakistan. Everyone, and their cousin, is an independent content creator. Untrained analysts are going unplugged. They have been unleashed on the unsuspecting public. Digital democracy is a tricky trail. India too is catching up. Beware, the wild digital fire is expected to cross the border very soon.

As is the rule of a crowded market place, the one with the shrillest voice is getting most customers, make it followers. Those Match ka Mujrim shows – that mid-2000s TV programme that changed cricket reporting in India – are back. This time cricket’s kangaroo courts are louder, more abusive and on a different medium.

The formula remains simple, unjustly undermines the non-performer of the day and over-hype someone who is left out – either on the bench or at home. Hyperventilating hosts are now main-streaming profanities.

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In the sub-continent, cricket and entertainment have always taken parallel paths. Swearing is the new-age item number in movies and web-series. Whether it suits the plot or the character, cuss words are sprinkled liberally. That is a new formula in Mumbai. It is also the laziest way to draw attention or to stand out in the crowded world of content-generators. And it is working.

Cricket too was getting OTTised. This is the medium of likes, subscribes. This economy depends on pressing the bell button. But without institutional checks and balances, these are no-holds-barred, insensitive roasts. In the race to attract followers, lines were being crossed.

Even before Pakistan flew out for the World T20 in Australia, there were those who wanted captain Babar Azam, and half of his team, sacked. The team was brutally scrutinised and ruthlessly ridiculed. It seemed, they wanted Pakistan to fail. That would send them in a zone – a manic frenzy that is seen in most successful reality TV shows.

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During those good old days, intense fights to support their heroes would happen in maidans, chai and paan shops of cricket-crazy nations. Now these ugly visuals are broadcast around the world.

The out-of-form middle-order Pakistan batters have been the prime targets for critics and subject of ridicule. Ifitikar Ahmed is called Chacha. His age, 32, would often get put in quote marks. Hard-hitter Asif Ali was referred to as Asif Tulla and Khushdil Shah was Parchi – the popular Pakistan sledge for favouritism.

The chairman of selectors Muhammad Wasim has been a butt of jokes for a while now. He gets called ‘laptop’ – his habit of referring to data and spreadsheets during television interviews giving him the name.

Babar’s opening partner Mohammad Rizwan was ‘Leg-side Lapadu’ – impossible to translate but it had a lot to do with the wicket-keeper’s alleged limited stroke play and preference for a certain section of the ground. What they called Babar isn’t printable.

Beyond the youtube, is the relatively censored world of television that has an unusually high number of former Pakistan cricketers as experts. There is one show that has four captains and two of them have also been coaches – Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Misbah ul Haq and Shoaib Malik. There’s another show that has Salim Malik, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz.

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Shoaib Akhtar and Rashid Latif have their own youtube channels. Aaquib Javed too is regular with his opinions. And no claims are being made that this is a comprehensive list. Here there are wheels within wheels, many have a past with either the administrators, coaching staff or those in the squad. There are scores to settle and points to be made.

Babar has been on the dart-targets of most. Akram points to Shoaib Malik, sitting across the panel, and hints at his inclusion in the team. Malik, in the past, has tweeted that under Babar, Pakistan has a culture of friendships, likes and dislikes. All through the campaign he has criticised the Pakistan team for selection and tactics.

PCB chairman Rameez Raja had been a vocal advocate of denying Mohammad Amir a second chance after his match-fixing ban. Amir, after the Zimbabwe loss, tweets: “It’s time to get rid of so called chairman jo pcb ka khuda bana hwa hai“. On a TV show, he calls the chief selector “laptop.”

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Social media has amplified these voices – both moderate and extreme. Considering their farewell from Pakistan wasn’t too cordial, Babar & Co are well aware that the reception would be more hostile. When players are aware that they will be targeted even for a minor slip-up, the fear of failure pulls them down in crunch situations. In high-pressure and high-stake games, players from India and Pakistan have a history of panicking.

It’s a global phenomenon. Research shows that the reason English footballers don’t bring the Cup home is because of the unrealistic goals their fans set for them and harsh criticism they face in case they fail. Racist slurs were directed at English footballers when they missed penalties.

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Ever thought why Roger Federer could hit those “threading the needle” backhand passing shots from way out of the court even when facing match point? It’s because you don’t see the Swiss shout down others on the centre court. They are known to be neutral, they don’t fuss over their champions. They treat sport as it should be. Tried hard but didn’t find a Swiss version of Match ka Mujrim show.

Send your feedback to sandydwivedi@gmail.com

Sandeep Dwivedi
National Sports Editor
The Indian Express

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First published on: 29-10-2022 at 09:02 IST
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