Johannesburg - Are Pakistan everyone else’s ‘second team’ for the T20 World Cup?
You know, “if South Africa don’t win the tournament, then I hope Pakistan do”. Is that the prevailing sentiment? For me it is.
I flit between Pakistan, New Zealand and the West Indies when it comes to global events. Easy, right! Avoid the ‘big three’ and all those teams have some redeeming, humane quality with a couple of colourful characters who make them quite likeable.
With Pakistan this year, however, there’s sympathy as well, because boy, has that country been treated disgracefully by the powers that be, i.e. India, England and Australia.
You could throw New Zealand in there this year as well after the Black Caps’ late withdrawal from a tour there, citing “security reasons”, which New Zealand then didn’t share with Pakistan’s cricket authorities. New Zealand have some credit in the bank, though, and they’re not England, India or Australia.
Pakistan have a little bit of something for everyone to love. There’s the aesthetics of Babar Azam’s batting – a languid, ‘soft-touch’ approach in which he gently greets ball with bat, propelling it to the boundary with jaw-dropping beauty.
Or Mohammad Rizwan, whose skill and joy at producing that skill makes a viewer smile.
Shaheen Shah Afridi is a great bowler, an outstanding bearer of the legendary fast-bowling lineage from Pakistan.
Then there’s Imad Wasim, Asif Ali, Haris Rauf and the ‘starman’ Hassan Ali. Someone who has not played but is in the squad, Sarfraz Ahmed, has grabbed ‘worldies’ behind the stumps, but hilariously regards them as second-rate catches.
Away from the current generation of players, Pakistan is one of the great cricket nations with a deep history in the game and a fanaticism equal to what India is so famous for. But they’ve hardly been shown the same level of respect as their sub-continent neighbours.
The period of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a prime example. Pakistan toured England (twice), New Zealand, the West Indies, Zimbabwe and South Africa, helping to soften the massive financial blows the pandemic created. When Australia pulled out of their Test tour of SA, Pakistan graciously added a fourthT20 international; it didn’t make a huge dent in Cricket SA’s losses, but the symbolism wasn’t lost on anyone at CSA’s offices.
Pakistan would also have played Afghanistan ahead of the T20 World Cup, and even sought to make the series happen in Sri Lanka, after political problems exploded in Afghanistan.
It’s not to say there aren’t problems in Pakistan or that some of the administration can be a little strange, but in the problematic times the world has experienced in the last few years because of Covid-19, there has been a generosity from Pakistan – its administrators, but especially its players – that kept the game alive.
There’s no other candidate for that ICC ‘Spirit of Cricket’ award.
So yes, Pakistan actually perfectly fit the bill for “the team that must win this World Cup, if my team can’t”. Without them, where might cricket have been the last 18 months?