Dream’s not over

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11 men.170 million spirits

As I write this, it has only been a few hours since a six by MS Dhoni brought joy and national pride to the hearts of Indians throughout the world. Wanting something with everything in your heart is often an important step in any success story India made it clear through their performances that they wanted this World Cup more than anyone else. Maybe it was the overwhelming desire of the Indian nation that simply outnumbered others.

As far as I believe India is not the best team in the world; in fact I (based on my often inadequate analytical skills) rate them a team lesser than at least two other countries. But India earned this World Cup win. Their campaign brought that of many others to a screeching halt, including ours. Our pride and the wounds to it are justified. But for a team that cannot and does not play cricket at home and has been afflicted by more scandals than the ever-growing PML factions, this was a World Cup performance to be proud of.

Looking back at our campaign, I feel that our teams exit at the semi-final stage was rather inevitable. Anyone who played cricket regularly as a child will remember times when you were part of a team younger than its rivals. Lets see if you can relate to this story: One day the older boys challenged you. You didnt have a chance in the world to beat them and yet, whether it was adrenalin, faith or a pure stroke of genius, you won. Heroes were born on your street/local ground that day. There were no camera crews snapping photographs or throngs of supporters cheering you on but you did not need that. You, based on a fleeting feeling, had exceeded your own expectations.

If someone asked you to explain what made you perform so well, you may not have been able to answer. And you knew in your heart of hearts that such performances cannot be repeated every day. You remember flamboyance, even though it is not consistent. You knew the older boys train harder and think more but it was your day. One day the older boys will beat you and then they will start beating you regularly. The reason? In sport, the mind matters. There is only so far one can go without a plan. The fact that our team lacked the training, planning and the mental toughness worthy of World Cup finalists was evidently clear on that painful evening of 30th March.

I am no fan of Shahid Afridis captaincy but something needs to be said here. In this World Cup, he reminded us of what we had nearly forgotten. He turned us all into those young believing individuals I mentioned earlier. All of us became a part of that team of young kids who beat the older boys. Nave as it may be, newfound belief inspires emotions hitherto unknown. For this, if nothing else, Shahid Afridi deserves credit and commendation. He and his men inspired hope, converted a people and had them believing that their team could win the sports greatest prize. In a country ravaged by all that Pakistan faces, this was a birth unexpected yet precious. For weeks, hope marched triumphantly on the streets of Pakistan and grew with each heartbeat. Team Pakistan may have dropped many catches but it lifted the spirits of an entire country. That is special. That is stellar.

After our loss to India, there have been outbursts of criticism against individual players. I concede that international cricketers have to pay a certain price for their fame. Part of it is to face criticism that is, in a way, democratised even if irrational. However, countries with the fastest growing population would find it hard to beat the rate at which we give birth to conspiracy theories. These range from the absurd to the laughable. We are the victims of our own thought processes. This needs to change and not just in the cricketing context. All of us need to realise that each dropped catch is not proof of match fixing.

Furthermore, each time you see yourself or another go overboard in criticising a player and calling for his head then simply consider this: There is a reason that he is out there and you are in your drawing room. He sacrificed and toiled harder than any of us will ever have to. He loved the sport in a way that we may never love anything. He plays in front of thousands and knows that millions are watching him. He too can err but, in a pressure situation, he is the best judge of what needs to be done. His judgment may not always turn out to be right but it needs to be trusted. That is the cost of this love affair with our team. More importantly, he needs to be respected. Tearing down those who brought us hope in the desert of despair is self-destructive. It betrays love, a sport and its understanding. If winning is all that matters to us then that reflects painfully clearly on all that we cannot appreciate. But surely we are better than that.

The writer is a Barrister of Lincolns Inn and practices in Lahore. He has a special interest in Anti-trust/Competition law. He can be reached at [email protected]