Salam Team Pakistan!


Mohali has been done; India won and we lost. I would have wanted us to win, no gainsaying that. We made mistakes while we played, as any team would have in a big match. Those mistakes cost us the match. We could do without them and we could do with a win. Yet, I write these lines to congratulate Team Pakistan for playing beyond expectations and not only beating Australia, a formidable opponent on any day but also beating Sri Lanka, a team in top form that could win the World Cup on Saturday.

There are two ways of looking at what happened in Mohali. One is to focus on that match without reference to Pakistans performance in the run-up to it; the other is to avoid a snapshot view and look at the team and its performance by taking a longitudinal design. Most people are likely to take the first rather than the second approach because, ironically, the very fact that Pakistan reached the semis and that too against India automatically raised expectations to a point where it is difficult for Pakistanis to accept that we lost to India and the dream is over.

My only problem with this snapshot-view approach is that it ignores the fact that Team Pakistan was playing against heavy odds from day one, one of those odds being the chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, though not the only one. This is a team which, in the last three years or so has gone through multiple traumas and has seen much uncertainty and restructuring. In fact, I would give full marks to Shahid Afridi for acting as a mature captain and managing to get his boys to the semis, and en route picking up Australias scalp, the first time the Aussies were defeated since 1999.

Of course one can argue that despite all this, once Team Pakistan was in the semis, it should have done better than it did. For instance, Umar Gul could have conceded 39, instead of 69 runs which would, going by simple statistics, mean India finishing with 30 runs less than it did and, as the argument constructed thus would go, that might just have done the trick. We could also say that if Tendulkar was not dropped four times he would have gone back to the pavilion much before he did and by which time he had accumulated 85 runs.

But I dont think this works quite like it seems it does or, more appropriately, we would want it to work. Lets assume Gul, who is a very good bowler and performed well through the tournament, did concede 39 instead of 69 runs but Wahab Riaz who picked up 5 wickets ended up getting one or none and conceding more runs than he did. Or while Tendulkar got out on 30, Yuvraj, who got a duck, ended up making a century.

The point really is that hindsight, besides being 20-20, also forces us into the counterfactual and counterfactual is just that counterfactual! It is for this reason that ifs and buts do not make for much for me. The reality is what has actually happened is the only reality and one has to live with it, gracefully and without sulking.

This appears to me to be a far better way of analysing a situation than recreating conveniently what should have been but wasnt. It is also from this perspective that I find it easier to focus on what Pakistan did and did well than what it should have done but could not.

This was a team widely considered the underdogs. No one, I repeat, no one, could have thought that Pakistan would reach the semis; or that it would defeat Australia; or end up top of the league in its pool. Yet, this very team did all three and it was no small feat.

Additionally, through this contest we saw a team of youngsters, instinctively good players but inexperienced, come together as a viable fighting unit and performing much better than anyone thought they would. Equally, these matches have shown us what more needs to be done. Some heads may roll. It is of course a difficult choice to decide who needs to go first, Mr Ijaz Butt or Mr Kamran Akmal. The first is dead weight; the latter cannot keep wickets even if he can occasionally score runs. But this is about tactics. The larger picture is about the talent we have and how it can be harnessed when there is someone there to lead them. That is a job Afridi performed and well. He has also shown himself to be a charming person, humble and decent rather than in any flashy way. He must get a standing ovation.

This World Cup is over for us but it has given us much on which Team Pakistan can be built. That is the biggest positive we have and we must celebrate it. So, from me, Salam Team Pakistan!

The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.