Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Pakistani Angel Gets Its Wings

They say that whenever Australia loses a cricket match, an angel gets its wings.

Ok, gi minagahet, maybe no one actually says that except for me, but its definitely the sentiment I feel.

I just finished the large project that was taking up almost all my time this past week, and so I was taking a break tonight by following some international Test cricket on Cricinfo. I've never been a fan of Australian cricket, and so the past few years, as they have declined (eventually being dominated by India in a tour two years ago), my passion for seeing the sometimes arrogant smirks on their faces turn into woeful frowns has grown. They are currently a Test series against Pakistan, which as most would assume would be completely in Australia's favor.

Pakistan cricket still hasn't recovered from the attacks on a visiting Sri Lankan team last year, and so they no longer have any home games and have to play all their matches on their people's grounds or on neutral terrain. Apart from that, their team is also incredibly young and gadda', I'm only familiar with about half of their current Test squad roster.

This sort of overlord kontra underdog story was too tempting to resist, even though I had a feeling that Pakistan would experience yet again the feeling of having your daggan handed to you by a gleeful Australian cricketeer. In the 2nd Test, Pakistan was given a miracle, a clear blessing from whatever Gods out there follow cricket and intervene in matches possibly because they have bets placed on one of the sides. Australia was magof fa'om in the first innings for 88 runs, and while they fought back and Pakistan wasn't able to capitalize very much over the next two innings, Pakistan still had a very good chance when they were set a chase of only 180 runs. Australia didn't let up much and Pakistan, it seemed, was determined to almost lose the match. It took them seven wickets but they eventually got to 180, winning the match, their first against Australia in more than 15 years.

Here's an article on the match for those interested.

Finally, the metaphor for this post, that of an angel getting its wings, I'm not sure if I want to stick with that or change it to something more "local." How about this one: Kada na ti mangganna Australia gi Test cricket, mautot i adalalak-na un karabao.

Nah, that was horrible. It's late now, mampos matuhok yu', maybe I'll try again later.

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Hope floats after hoodoo ends
Pakistan's modern contests with Australia have been compelling, for what they have revealed about each country's approach to sport
Osman Samiuddin
July 24, 2010
Cricinfo

In losing every single Test for nearly 15 years to Australia a broader story was being written than just one country's complete owning of the other. In that time Australia have built decisively and maintained ruthlessly a dominance of the game almost unequalled, which is only now beginning to rust. More and less in the same period - but more pointedly from 1999 onwards - Pakistan's years have been dark ones, struggling to build anything they haven't themselves taken down immediately. Australia have prospered; Pakistan have flourished, struggled, flourished, struggled and then struggled more.

In a way, the Headingley result actually says as much about Australia's continuing descent than it does about Pakistan. Not only has Ricky Ponting now overseen two Ashes losses after all, he is also the first Australian captain to lose a Test to Pakistan since John Howard became PM. It can be argued that if anything is a true indicator of their decline, it is this; that no side quite as ludicrously inexperienced as this one has beaten Australia for many years is merely the salt.

No opponent has had as tight and brutal a grip over Pakistan in the modern age as Australia; no opponent has so exposed Pakistan's vast spectrum of frailties physical and mental; no opponent has so taunted Pakistan with the dictum that talent alone is nothing; no opponent has stuffed down their throats as forcefully the truth of sport today, that triumph has a collective, not individual, imprint.

In its own quiet way, shed of the jingoism of Pakistan-India, of the age of the Ashes and of the ego clashes of Australia-India, Pakistan's modern contests with Australia (to call it a rivalry is to denigrate the notions of equality inherent in that) have also been compelling, for what they have revealed about each country's approach to sport.

Until the end of that 1995-96 series, there was a degree of equality about their jostling; Pakistan had won 11 to Australia's 14 Tests. Since then they only ever came close to not being thrashed three times and each time they lost, in Hobart in 1999, in Colombo in 2002 and in Sydney in 2009, it broke them that much more. By the time of Michael Hussey's semi-final escape in May, they had long gone over the edge: a whole generation of cricketers had come and gone believing, behind the press conference platitudes and public statements, that Australia cannot be beaten.

How crippled they are by Australia was evident in this chase. Forty to get with seven in hand, last night in Pakistan, was an equation fifty-fifty and that was an improvement from the opening day when they were 88 all out. The way they went about it this morning, possibly the players thought they had less chance. At one point, you would've put good money on John Howard's longest hops winkling out the lower order.

But just to provide a blip in that equation is cause for some celebration - and there will be an outpouring in Pakistan. No matter that they collapsed at the finishing line only to stick one pinky over. In its own individual way, as the win that halted that run, it will be difficult to forget.

The optimist will draw greater significance, not least from this being a second win in 19 Tests against all sides. They chased a small total to win it, which is precisely what they haven't done on three occasions in the last year alone. The nature of the chase suggested they're far from getting it down pat and Pakistan have forever been poor chasers of small totals. To expect that to change overnight is to be a fool but finding a way to win, experiencing a big win, can do telling things to young players.

Elsewhere he will see the arrival of Azhar Ali and the immediate calm he brings to the top order and feel that here is something out of which a solid one-down can be moulded. He will look at an opening partnership that has provided three century and five half-century stands in 11 Tests, even as he scratches his chin to wonder how Imran Farhat has contributed to that; Friday was the Farhat of Lahore 2003-04, an opener of promise and patience, not the ICL-jigged chancer. He will note that not a single catch was dropped in the outfield over two Tests or by Kamran Akmal. The potential of the bowling attack, meanwhile, will compel even the pessimist to rejoice alongside him.

He'll also say what a fine way to start a captaincy. Few would've imagined Salman Butt to be the man to break this hold but few second-guess Pakistan cricket correctly. Butt had his moments here, some nice hunches, some level-headedness but some scary, panicked moments too.

He should not, though, see the win as some triumph of youth over age and rule out a return of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. The middle order has promise but nowhere through the two Tests has it been sturdy enough for Test cricket. It needs the kind of mentoring Inzamam-ul-Haq's presence in the middle provided earlier this decade to both Yousuf and Younis.

The pessimist will simply wait till the end of a still long summer.

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