I stumbled onto the timeline of Pakistan cricket fairly recently. Of course I was aware Imran Khan won the World Cup in 1992, but in childhood the event had little context. I figured Wasim Akram was good, Sachin Tendulkar was bad (though the exact status of Mohammad Azharuddin remained unclear).On visits back to Pakistan from my father’s foreign postings, my contemporaries played tape-ball cricket: brash, portly kids wearing blue foam chapals would brandish the bat; thinner, wild-eyed kids with long, middle-parted hair would bowl. Me, I didn’t quite relate. I played basketball and a fair bit of soccer during those years. I cheered the Knicks, Sampras, Brazil. Cricket, though not alien, remained peripheral.
It happened soon after we moved back to Pakistan. I spent winter break in Karachi with my grandmother and uncle who had recently shifted to a new home closer to the sea. Somewhere in the living room, one moist, dim, late-afternoon, the kind only Karachi can conjure, a television flickered with the static drone of a Test match. It was the hour of the Karachi siesta, a time of eerie stillness and ticking clocks.
Sometimes, when there was no one around, it even produced a bit of magic.
As I glanced over at the TV, interchangeable men in white performed the semi-familiar mechanics of cricket. Then, the magic began to pour:
“Holy fuck,” I whimpered.
When Shoaib flattened Dravid’s off-stump, I felt my head being shoved into a bucket of Bolivian cocaine. By the time Sachin happened—Shoaib falling to his knees, head heaven-ward, arms aloft with mana from the Gods—I’d snorted the bucket clean. In that instance I was ruptured and reborn—Pakistan cricket, hell, the entire country, now coursed through my veins.
As I learnt that fateful Karachi afternoon, Pakistan cricket is a moment, an isolated point in time. And it slaps you in that moment with all the glory of being. You experience sensory-overload: the velocity of in-swing, the perfect Yorker, the attempted drive, drive beaten, middle stump broken, roar of triumph, Eden Gardens. Right up the fucking nostril.
Thirteen years later, half-way across the world, I found myself snowed in, down with the flu, and stressed with a heavy work load. Though the Pakistani cricket fan in me always awaits the next fix, the England series seemed again to assume a peripheral quality. Of course I had anticipated it for months—did Team Misbah have the stuff to compete with the best in the world? But this was an academic question, not hope of another Karachi afternoon.
After all, how could it be? This team’s most assertive batsmen boasted fearsome nicknames like ‘professor’ and ‘chootiya’; its spearhead stared opponents down bowling at 82mph; an offie was the X-factor. Team Misbah, it seemed, was detox.
And so, since the Dubai Test, I had settled into a working routine of staying up for just the first session of each day—starting around 1am, and ending at 3—making up for lost time with scorecards and highlights. So far this had worked fine. Pakistan practically strolled to a win in Dubai and I dutifully followed up each day. In Abu Dhabi I caught moments of Ajmals and Rehmans, Misbahs and Azhars, and found my craving fairly well satisfied. Of course, all this meant that I missed one of the most important moments in Pakistan cricket’s history: England’s fourth day collapse.
Oddly though, it didn’t seem to matter.
Though it must have been dramatic unfolding live, what happened in Abu Dhabi was not an spasmodic burst of Pakistani brilliance. What happened in Abu Dhabi began with talk of the teesra, and went on to the introduction of Hafeez in the sixth over of the first innings in Dubai; through Ajmal’s elbow, it transferred to Akmal’s sweep; then, to Misbah’s grind in Abu Dhabi, the spin orgy in England’s first innings, Shafiq and Azhar’s defiance in Pakistan’s second. Its penultimate feat was Azhar’s statement that 150 was defendable. Finally, after lunch on the fourth day, it settled on Abdur Rehman’s left index finger, delivering the final prod that toppled Andrew Strauss and his men. England had no choice but to succumb to Misbah’s team that afternoon—as other’s have avered, it was almost inevitable.
The brilliance of Team Misbah is in the intangibles: the understated field sets, the restriction of runs, the zealot’s determination to stay at the crease, the canny use of Hafeez. These are qualities found between the lines of the game—they soak in after-the-fact. Though I saw most of Ajmal’s ten wickets in Dubai, I can’t quite remember a single one. While Shoaib and teams of Pakistan past titillated the senses, Team Misbah’s quality is more cerebral and atmospheric. It’s like a cloud that envelops the field, manipulating conditions to its own suiting.
And so though I missed the collapse in Abu Dhabi, what I’d seen already of Team Misbah provided me a chronicle, a continuum to absorb—not just a fleeting moment in time. It has introduced me to a new intoxicant, one that is more subtle, more ethereal—one that lingers. It is one not just of victory, but of the victorious. And it is one that will likely endure.
Judging by denizens of websites like PakPassion, it seems Pakistan cricket’s fine tradition of dunking young boys into buckets of cocaine has continued over the years. Now, there is something less demanding, and more satisfying to savor.
I only worry that this shit’s harder to kick.