Before the last game: It’s all about cricket now

Lahore : Skipper World XI Faf du Plessis, left, holds the World XI trophy with his Pakistani counterpart Sarfraz Ahmed ahead of the World XI series, at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. A World XI team led by South Africa's Faf du Plessis arrived in Lahore early Monday amid tight security to play a three-match Twenty20 series against Pakistan. AP/PTI(AP9_11_2017_000207B)

LAHORE: It’s been a big week. Two of the three World XI series games have already been played and a penultimate ball finish in Wednesday night’s game meant the last one won’t be a dead rubber.

The traffic police seem to be getting better at their job, and with Friday in sight, Lahoris can still pretend to be zinda dilan ny Lahore as they trudge through the grind.

Indian cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle has also been proven wrong. Although his tweet, “The best thing about World XI kind of teams. They attract a lot of attention and they always lose!” is not factually incorrect, there is a strange feeling of satisfaction at Faf and the boys making him eat his words.

Perhaps most significantly, nobody has been called phateechar yet and maybe that is why cricket and politics have been successfully separated for now.

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Najam Sethi will breathe a sigh of relief too, considering, he still hasn’t been attacked by a mob, but he still has one more game to get through and a lot of people that don’t particularly like him too much.

It is unclear why the PCB scheduled the final game for Friday. One would think it would be so it wouldn’t collide with the NA 120 by-election. But even if that isn’t the reason, it’s good that the dates are different. The occasion deserves all the attention it can get.

But with all that out of the way, one can now get back to the cricket. The first match was a festive occasion, made even more so by the triumphant ending. The second was comparatively subdued, with slower scoring rates, lower stakes, and even better weather. Friday is all about the cricket though.

Pakistan has not played international cricket since their Champion’s Trophy win a few months back. Though it is home, Gadaffi is a new territory for most of the team. Out of practice, on a high from their current standing in the world cricket and enjoying the perks of home cricket, Pakistan could very well falter. A series loss would probably even pass off without much consequence.

However to lose to the World XI at home would be an embarrassment. Despite being the most well stocked and high profile World XI team other than the one formed in 2005 to play against Australia, there is some truth to Harsha Bhogle’s tweets. World XI teams are formed of players that don’t know each other’s ins and outs. They are a lot of big names but not really a team. Perhaps it is because of practice gained in franchise cricket that all the players seem to have acclimatised so well to each other. Yet a series loss, even 2-1, would be unprecedented.

And even if it is brushed aside as an insignificant statistic in the larger and grander scheme of things, losing would be a definite mood dampener. More worryingly, a loss now could be indicative of a general slump for a team and captain that are fresh off the boat.

Expectations after the Champions Trophy are huge, but the same magic cannot happen again and again. So it is vital Sarfaraz seize every opportunity he can.

Here’s to hoping Babar Azam continues his good form, Sarfaraz doesn’t lose his first series and Fakhar Zaman stop acting like Shahid Afridi. Because if we’re investing so much in a game, we better be good at it too.