For reasons of history, nothing beats giving a good old-fashioned hiding to the old colonial masters. But with the Pakistanis getting their own noses in front at Lord’s on Sunday, it was more than a victory at a game their fans probably love more than themselves!
Lording it over at the home of cricket this time transcended the sport itself although the entire global cricket fraternity was watching this contest primarily for the poetic return of Mohammad Amir, the young fast bowler from Pakistan who was banned for half a decade after being found guilty of spot-fixing at the hallowed turf back in 2010.
Then, the hottest property in the game with allusions that made him out to be even more talented than the one and only Wasim Akram – indeed the great himself admitted as much – Amir was making a comeback to Test cricket, something that naysayers had, at one stage, given up as an idle dream.
To be sure, until last month doubts surfaced if he might even get a British visa.
But the transcendence referred to, here, is not limited to Amir finding his feet again. This is much bigger than him.
The Lord’s triumph is also about the resilience of a cricket-mad country that has long been reduced to a pariah status – and not just because a terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 put an end to international cricket at home.
It is also a rejoinder to the so-called Big Three of the International Cricket Council, who have virtually left Pakistan out in the cold to fend for itself – in that the world needs Pakistan cricket to flourish, not just survive, for its own greater good, not just Pakistan’s.
The Lord’s chapter, therefore, symbolises a never-say-die mien that is truly, madly, very Pakistani in its avatar: defiant, flamboyant and fiery.
But the surprise package is that this is not founded in some Shahid Afridi edge-of-the-seat thriller.
On the contrary, it owes almost entirely to the methodical Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s greatest unsung hero in the game, and perhaps, even beyond.
Some 1,252 days after an impressionable Amir was lured into stepping over the line, Misbah has presided over a redemption that has forced the world to sit up and take notice.
Handed charge at 36, when he was actually considering retirement from the game after years in the wilderness, thanks in no small part to an insecure Inzamam-ul-Haq, who felt Misbah’s inclusion could upend his own career, the Pakistan Cricket Board’s decision was, then, dismissed as a counterproductive and backward move.
Even before Misbah, 42, led with a dream hundred on what was his debut at the home of cricket in the Test arena, becoming in the process the oldest Test centurion in 82 years, most of the English media were already acknowledging him as a leader worthy of his stature.
The “redemption” rhapsody is bound to ring louder with the result at Lord’s.
Pakistan and England have a history of bad blood involving highhanded administrators, players flying off the handle, umpires getting into the act, fans going berserk and even pitches being blamed for ill-intent.
Even when it seemed slightly more kosher this time around, England captain Alastair Cook seemed eager to ratchet up the summer heat on Amir, by almost egging on the spectators at Lord’s to get under his akin!
In the end, it seemed of little consequence, because while England focused on Amir, who did not quite set the stage alight – he did get Cook on third attempt after two dropped catches off his bowling in the first innings and fittingly, delivered the knockout punch that ended the hosts’ resistance on the fourth day – leggie Yasir Shah rattled the pickets on an unresponsive track to steal the thunder.
But it is a measure of respectability Misbah has brought to his stewardship and how he has restored Pakistan’s pride that for the first time in living memory, the notoriously bad English press has resisted whinging and whining thus far, and sportingly lauded the Pakistan captain’s yeoman services as a leader.
The appreciation has not been restricted to just connoisseurs of the game. Even fans have acknowledged the good.
Consider the appraisal of these two English fans on the Guardian’s website following Sunday’s outcome:
“This match was a redemption story, but not that of one player, as the press has made out, but of Pakistani cricket as a whole. Pakistan slunk away from Lord’s six years ago in disgrace, annihilated on the pitch and derided by the crowd after turning the hallowed ground into a gambling den. Today, they left the field in triumph and to universal acclaim, even affection, after a skilful and engaging performance in a game played in good spirit. It’s a testimony to the work they’ve put in to clean up their act and overcome the other misfortunes that have dogged their cricket, most not of their own making. It’s a cliché to say a certain victory is ‘good for cricket’, but this one certainly is. And good for Pakistan too,” one fan opined.
Another one chipped in: “It was also wonderful to see the spirit of unity in the Pakistani team and their evident enjoyment of being a team. They seem well led at all levels and were marvellous ambassadors for sport, not just Pakistani cricket. For many Pakistanis at home and those of Pakistani origin in the UK it must have been a sense of both hope and pride and for many others, a feeling that not everything has become sour.”
Apart from providing his compatriots hope in what are decidedly dark times in general, not only for Pakistan but the world at large, Misbah, the cool, calm, collected captain chose to provide a bit of mirth by pioneering a new form of celebration – the military salute and press-ups – in appreciation of a regimented fitness that is likely to become the standard in future.
More importantly, by dedicating the victory to Abdul Sattar Edhi – perhaps, the world’s greatest humanitarian – who passed away early this month to much grief in Pakistan, Misbah only raised the bar of his own immortality in the people’s reckoning.
*The writer is Community Editor.
Moral of the story: The Misbah-ul-Haq-led team has shown the world needs Pakistan cricket to flourish, not just survive, for its own greater good, not just Pakistan’s.