PAKISTAN staged a determined turnaround to bag the coveted Cricket Champions Trophy, after an embarrassing opening match drubbing at the hands of arch rivals India. The achievement was no fluke as it rubbished Aamir Sohail’s weird attribution of continued successes by the green shirts after their humiliation in the opener, to the Organizers’ arrangement to ensure gates, and of others smelling match-fixing by the blasted bookies.
There is so much money in the game now that with some cricketers falling to baits such speculations are not uncommon. But in the case of the recent feat of Pakistani cricketers, it owes itself to a resilient and united bunch of youth and experience with an inspiring skipper leading from the front, which put their heads down to the task and came out flying. Humbling India in the Final encounter was icing on the cake and deserved the jubilation, reception and acknowledgement the squad has been receiving ever since over the media, from the cricket-loving nation and the official quarters.
This was a sporting encounter in which one side had to win, and it happened to be Pakistan’s day, just as it was India’s only days back. But the upshot of both these encounters was that there were enjoyable comments, jibes and repartees between anchors, analysts and experts over the media on both sides while their respective cricket lovers made predictions declaring their side the winner. Interestingly, even though the end result should normally have categorized both the opener and the final game as one-sided, they came of as exciting fights of the titans with each reversal and success on the run of play on either side celebrated or bemoaned right till the end. This is the beauty of this game of uncertainties. But unfortunately beyond that, there have been gestures of an over-kill on both sides of the fence which one must detest and condemn.
Even though a unique kind of heat is generated whenever sporting outfits of both these countries meet, and the jubilation as well as disappointment is also disproportionally reflected at the end of the game, this time it was a bit too much. For many days in India, the crowds not only smashed their TV sets but also demanded sacking of the squad and removal of their skipper Virat Kohli, burning their effigies and what not. On the Pakistani side, while some newspapers screamed exaggerated metaphors in describing the win, an anchor used uncalled-for epithets in referring to Virat Kohli who is not only the finest batsman in the game today but one who reflected dignity and poise in defeat and praised the Pakistani victory over the media.
Yes, there are areas in which the cricketing establishment as well as some players in India have indulged in sabre-rattling and foul-mouthing on political matters particularly over occupied Kashmir and even played politics over resumption of cricketing ties between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Indian desire of political hegemony in the region has by design spilled over to the sports arena, initiated with boycott of playing cricket in Pakistan on a frivolous pretext of Pakistan meddling in India and followed by refusal to even honour bilateral series at neutral venues according to the ICC Calendar. One has no doubt in one’s mind that the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore was masterminded by Indian Intelligence after India failed to persuade Sri Lanka to abandon its tour of Pakistan following its own boycott.
It is no coincidence that each time some unusual talent surfaces in Pakistan Cricket, they are lured and framed into betting and match-fixing, and it turns out to be Indian bookies at the back of these escapades as it happened in the case of the prolific opener Skipper Salman Butt, the wily swing bowler Mohammed Asif and the teenage pace sensation Aamir, as the trio was on the rampage on an away-tour in 2010. By stroke of luck and determination only Aamir has struggled back to limelight after a lay-off had taken away five precious years of his career, since he set the tone for the win in the finals by sending the Indian top order back to the pavilion. Again with Sharjeel Khan emerging as a devastating opener for the T20 and One-day formats for Pakistan and Khalid Latif in sync with him, the pair framed prior to the Champions Trophy and ousted from the squad may well turn out to be the handiwork of Indian bookies, though this is by no means to suggest that the Pakistani cricketing establishment and the players themselves are not to blame for lack of vigilance and indiscretion. This must serve a warning signal to other emerging players.
Indian ambitions which like in politics seem to be boundless in cricket they have been mercifully stalled by the ICC acting timely to scrap the so-called ‘Big Three’ status granted to Australia, England and India which had been earlier allowed hegemony over Cricketing proceeds, but will now revert to an equitable treatment to all its full members. Taking nothing away from the accomplishment of the winning squad and the honours bestowed upon its members by various entities, one reckons that the Prime Minister went a bit too far with a purse of ten million rupees for each including the highly erratic Wahab Riaz responsible for the opening humiliation and withdrawn from the team, as well as those who merely sat on the bench without a game in the tournament. It would have been another matter if the PM’s discretionary benevolence had come from his own pocket rather than out of tax-payers money.
A million or two at best should have been a just reward in a country where affluence is a far cry and people groping for two square meals. Rewards at such junctures are only a gesture and an impetus to continue doing better and bringing honours to the nation, as the players in any case are paid to perform and have central contracts which legendary Stars of yesteryears could never dream of. Champions Trophy crown has in fact thrown up the challenge of maintaining the level of performance achieved which once upon a time was norm of Pakistani cricket, as it takes doing to be of reckoning.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.