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Old Sunday, August 28, 2016
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Default On top of the cricket world!

On top of the cricket world!

Nothing succeeds like success, it is said. And it is said for a reason. With success we can simply shove everything else aside and push it under the rug. To bask in the glory of success ó howsoever transient it may well be ó is something that falls within the domain of acceptable human behaviour. Having said that, letís enjoy for now being the Numero Uno Test side in the world. It sounds good. It does.

A bit too much had to happen around the world to make it possible for Pakistan, but now that it has all happened, there is no, absolutely no reason not to bask in the glory of the moment. For a team long deprived of home conditions, it is but a thing to rejoice. The only problem one can see cropping up out of this otherwise wonderful moment is that it might work as a lullaby to the ears of those running the show administratively when the fact of the matter is that Pakistanís position as the top Test nation is not because of them; it is despite them being around.

The superficial, if not superfluous, interventions like the military boot camp and a merry-go-round involving fancy designations and the same old faces canít take the team forward, but everyone will chip in with their acts of wonder (more perceived than actual), proving the maxim right that success has many fathers while defeat is an orphan.

Pakistan has risen to the top of the sporting world often either thanks to the weather or an improbable result among other teams. This time the two elements combined
The manner in which the top slot has fallen in Pakistanís lap is actually quite interesting and, more importantly, indicative of its actual worth. Pakistan had to win its series against England outright to get the spot, which it didnít do. Australia had to play seriously miserable cricket in Sri Lanka which it duly did, losing its three-Test series 0-3. It was still in Indian hands and there was every likelihood that they will do what they were supposed to do against a West Indian side which has long been shooting itself in the foot owing to scarcity of talent managed by too many cooks. Fate had to intervene and it did rather spectacularly; first with rain, and then with awful ground management which meant there was no play possible even under blue skies and a reasonably blazing sun which failed to dry up the soggy outfield. The Indians could only sit in the dressing room watching their slot slip into Pakistani hands.

If social media is any indicator ó and it surely is in todayís world ó more Pakistanis are happy that we have taken it out of Indian hands, and, likewise, more Indians are disturbed that it has gone from their hands to Pakistan. This is a rather hilarious sidebar to the whole episode.

Ironically, this pattern of Pakistanís progress depending on divine intervention in terms of rain and mortal intervention in terms of one particular team losing to another particular team often with a particular margin is not new. Any number of such incidents can be recalled without much of an effort, but two ó one of each variety ó come to mind straightaway. The only time Pakistan has picked the World Cup was in 1992. Enough time has elapsed for the folklore of Ďcornered tigersí to generate and sustain its own momentum, but it was nothing but rain that gave Pakistan a desperate foot in a door that had all but slammed shut in its face.

Having scored a mighty 74 runs in 40.2 overs, there was no way forward ó especially after England had knocked down 24 of them in eight overs ó having lost a string of games till then. Pakistanís pack-up time was about an hour away when the skies opened over Adelaide and threw down cats and dogs and a few things more. The match was washed out and under the relevant rules both sides were given a point each. It was this one point that allowed Pakistan to stay in the competition and the rest, as they say, is history.

For the mortal variety, letís go back a little further to another World Cup and another game altogether. The inaugural Hockey World Cup was held in Spain in 1971. It was conceived and executed by Pakistan and even the trophy had been donated by the Pakistan Hockey Federation. It was to be held in Lahore, but owing to the troubled conditions on the border with India, the event had to be moved at the last minute to Barcelona.

In his autobiography, Dash Through My Life, Islahuddin has recalled the episode with his characteristic sense of humour. After the first few matches, it was clear that for Pakistan to move to the semi-finals, Japan had to beat Holland. It was such preposterous proposition that the team manager and Islah left the hotel to go to the teamís travel agent to book the contingent on the homebound flight as there was no way ahead in the tournament. On their way, they passed the stadium and decided to have a look at the game before moving on. There were a few other members of the Pakistani squad sitting in an otherwise empty stadium. The two joined them and were a bit surprised that the game was still standing at 0-0 when they expected Japan to be in deficit. They stayed back and saw Japan doing the impossible; beating Holland by 1-0. The Japanese were happy, but Pakistani players were so happy that they entered the ground, lifted the Japanese on their shoulders and did a lap of honour for them. The Japanese finally were more surprised than happy! On their part, Pakistan sneaked through to the semi-final and then lifted the trophy beating Spain 1-0.

So it was rain that gave Pakistan the cricket World Cup, and an improbable result between two other teams that gave Pakistan the hockey World Cup. The two elements had to join hands in two different parts of the world to give Pakistan the top slot in Test cricket.

For a team that is leading the pack right now, it is interesting that only one player apiece features in the Top 10 individual rankings; Younis Khan is fifth among the batsmen, and Yasir Shah is sixth among the bowlers. The former was struggling till the very end of the English tour and people had already started writing his cricketing obituary, while the latter had at best an up and down outing. There is no one from Pakistan on the list of Top 10 all-rounders.

This basically means either of two contrasting possibilities. One, that the top slot is more of a statistical quirk than anything. Two, that it has been a unique team effort with no dependence on individuals. It all depends on how you decide to look at it. Take your pick.

Source: On top of the cricket world!
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 28th, 2016
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