Against All Odds
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

Moments of pure national exhilaration have been few and far between in recent times for Pakistan, confronted as we are with external and internal pressures in fast-changing times. But our cricket team provided us with one such moment which we will recall in times of stress and doubts. Their achievement ranks alongside other such moments of national exhilaration after our creation, alongside that of India’s in 1947.
There were our sporting triumphs in hockey and squash, which I am sure had a role to play in the West implementing international rule changes in both these games to suit their style of playing. Our sporting establishment willy-nilly gave in to these external pressures -- showing little support for the game our players had dedicated themselves to. And in the end the team spirit remained weak and dissipated. There was also our singular cricketing World Cup triumph but the captain’s post-award speech focused less on the team effort and more on the individual’s triumph.
Beyond sports, we saw a few of our intellectuals triumph against all odds whilst others died without their due recognition. Our scientist Abdus Salam’s success was due to his own resilience and genius and despite the maltreatment at the hands of a state he believed in till the end. And, as in the case of sports, the state structures and bureaucracies played a negative role. Has anything changed now?
Well, our one moment of national exhilaration at the level of the state was the acquisition of our nuclear capability -- against all international odds. But here again individuals played a tremendous role in going that extra mile -- from Z.A. Bhutto to A.Q. Khan and all the other scientists who gave of their knowledge and skills.
However, beyond this moment, one has seen moments of national exhilaration despite the bureaucracies and political machinations. Our cricketing triumph in India was no exception to this. The PCB’s bureaucracy and leadership have been rent with politics and nonsensical turf wars. Many talented youngsters have yet to be recognized while old favorites are never allowed to be put to pasture. That is why Yasser Arafat continues to be denied an opportunity despite his massive cricketing talent that has been apparent in domestic cricket. That is why the ageing and clearly spent force Moin Khan’s name continues to be whispered despite the sensational discovery of young Kamran Akmal.
Undoubtedly, our cricketers rose above the PCB politics and external interventions to showcase their talent most convincingly in India. Our passion and pride in their performance was made even more intense because they battled all manner of odds in India, despite their diplomatic pronouncements. They faced a hostile crowd where each cricketing success on their part was met with a haunting silence from the crowds -- such a contrast to Pakistanis cheering for the Indian side in this country. In addition, the PCB officials had inexplicably agreed to an absurd itinerary with massive logistical problems and travel torments that would have tried the patience of any team. Yet Inzamam and his boys refused to let that get to them.
Finally, in the ODIs we saw the Indian captain Ganguly launching into a tirade against one of our players who had sat on the ground because of cramps. While the referee was quick to penalize Inzamam for throwing bat after dismissal close to the pavilion, he ignored Ganguly’s outburst. And then our team had to deal with the worst umpiring decisions from Indian umpire A.V. Jayaprakash. But they triumphed against all these odds and that is why we must acknowledge their greatness -- not just as cricketers but as human beings. They certainly did us proud in so many ways. Let no one else take credit for their triumph -- certainly not the PCB.
From a Pakistani perspective, the greatest attribute of the team was that they actually acknowledged the teamwork -- with each individual, even that great and glorious cricketing anarchist, Shahid Afridi, clearly stating that their success was a team effort and for the team. Here, one really must salute the captain -- unassuming Inzamam, so often the butt of jokes and ribbing. He has come a long way and he is exactly what Pakistan needs -- a leader who quietly but resolutely leads without thrusting the weight of an overgrown ego or personality. Just as we need strong institutions rather than charismatic leaders in this country, in team sports we need leaders who melt in with a team spirit so that no one is seen as bigger or more important than the team. Inzamam’s players also did him proud.
We should realize that we have no room for the tantrum throwers or egocentric players who feel they can push their way around. We need the Naved-ul-Hasans and Samis rather than the Shoaib Akhtars. Of course, uniquely talented individuals add to the team but only if they can become part of the team’s identity. That is what Afridi has managed to do while retaining his own individuality. Let us hope that the sporting bureaucracy, normally a hindrance rather than a help in pushing forward our sportspersons, will not kill our cricketing potential after the triumph over India.
But the cricket in India was definitely more than just about the game. The matches revealed the Indian psyche -- mean, niggardly and uncompromising. The notion of sporting spirit for the Indians certainly does not exist -- at least as far as Pakistan is concerned. Such a contrast to the generosity and sporting spirit shown to the Indians during their cricketing tour of Pakistan! One has come to expect political obduracy and a petty-mindedness from the Indian political elite on substantive issues like Kashmir and the Indus waters -- again in the face of an almost continuous flexibility on the part of Pakistan -- a negativity that is apparently reflected at all levels of the Indian nation. Words and more words is all we get from the Indian side on Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek and Baglihar, even as they move forward in fields of their interest in the dialogue process with Pakistan -- such as trade and communications.
As for Pakistan, our cricket team also reflected this nation at a micro level - defying all odds, marching to its own drum beat with strong individuals, perhaps less well-oiled professionally but playing from the heart with a spirit of defiance, against external pressures and internal wranglings. This is Pakistan today -- a nation full of rich diversity, seemingly squabbling on all issues but coming together as a nation when the chips are down and in the face of unresponsive state structures. That is why we truly see our nation reflected in the cricket team and that is why we should allow ourselves the pleasure of basking in their glory and let the shadows fall on the bureaucratic politics of the PCB. (Courtesy The News)


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