Nostalgia is an over rated feeling. No wonder the psychological description for nostalgia is “hypochondria of heart” and the Swiss doctor credited with discovering/articulating this syndrome way back in 17th century, called it a “curable disease”. The problem with romanticising days gone by, is that in the cinema of sepia tinted images, which the mind conjures, all unpleasant memories and privations of ‘days gone by’ get censored. In fact, there is an almost masochistic tinge to cricketing ‘nostalgia’ of many of those whom the demographers unimaginatively call Generation Y or for whom the marketers have the blasé description of millennials—broadly speaking people who attained their adolescence in the mid 1990s.
Say, why on earth, are some of us millennials, feeling sad at the feebleness which marks the performance of Pakistan men cricket team—with their early exit in the T20 world cup, being the latest in a series of embarrassing performances the team has accumulated in white ball cricket in past few years?
After all, the occasional contrived bonhomie apart, Pakistan geo-politically has been a foe and the earliest cricketing initiations of those growing up in late 80s and most of 90s have been scarred by annihilation of genteel Indian cricketers by marauding Pakistani conquistadors. For fans, India and Pakistan cricket rivalry was the exemplification of George Orwell’s description of sport as war minus guns—with politicians’ claims of sports building goodwill, sounding vacuous homilies. Sadly for Indian fans, so total was the domination by the Pakistani cricket team of India, that we would derive solace from the occasional success we had—the world cup victories and mostly Sachin Tendulkar’s heroic one man battles against the alliterative menace of Wasim and Waqar.
To ‘rationalise’ our defeats, we took refuge under the quintessential alibi of losers—umpiring is biased, especially in Sharjah, conveniently ignoring that even in matches played at other venues (including India), Pakistan walloped us. There were certain hexes, which we thought conspired to ensure that India loses matches. The litany was so long, that it covered practically everything under the sun and beyond—if only Aaquib Javed wouldn’t play, if only match wasn’t on Friday, if only India batted first, if only Sachin could not be given LBW, if only match was on Tuesday and other such veritable nonsense.
What irritated us even more was that the Pakistani cricketers epitomised everything that we lacked. Their fast bowlers were sexy, well toned, chiselled and clean shaved, compared to the either stout or feeble meek moustachioed cricketers that formed the Indian XI. They ran like Northern Winds, bowled yorkers at will, dated our Bollywood dolls and even managed to win overseas tests against other teams—something which Indian team failed to do for almost two decades.
And then something changed. As we millennials hit our twenties and world entered the noughties—an imperious man, whom they called Prince of Calcutta, was made the captain of India and suddenly the Indian team was filled with cricketers whose chutzpah made us reminiscent of Pakistan’s glory days. There was Turbanator, Zak, Najafgarh’s Nawab, Great Wall of India, Yuvi and, well there was Tendulkar version 2.0, who now with his new team mates played with such freedom that he had never enjoyed before. We started thrashing Pakis, our batsmen scored double and triple centuries against them and within no time we started winning series against them in their own country!
Pakistani writer Osman Samiuddin, author of the excellent book–The Unquiet Ones: History of Pakistan cricket–describes it as a tale of two sixes. The Javed Miandad six of last ball of Chetan Sharma in 1986 which heralded almost a decade and a half of domination of Pakistan by India. This hoodoo, was broken by Sachin Tendulkar’s famous six of Shoaib Akhtar in 2003 world cup. Whether these two shots had such transformative power as is attributed to them, is a moot point, but they definitely were precursors to each team’s respective eras of domination. A lazy wishful thinking from Pakistan or a deeply pessimistic one from India, may goad a belief that another six may turn the tables again. Sadly for Pakistan that seems beyond the realms of possibility.
And sadly too, for Indian cricket fans— because to see this shambolic Pakistani team is so insipid for a true cricket fan, and the prospect of result of India vs Pakistan limited over contest has become, so overwhelmingly in favour of India.
Pakistan’s consistent abysmal performances under Shahid Afridi in world tournaments, against other top ranked teams, also suggest that sobriquets usually associated with Pakistan teams as “volatile”, “capable of beating anyone on their day” etc, are now trite expressions that have far outlived their validity. The Indian fan of today hopes that there should be long One day series with Pakistan, so that we can curtail the still sizeable gap between the wins accumulated in One day cricket. It satisfies our egos, when former Pakistani cricketers, who in their playing days would show their disdain for Indian cricketers (some of meanest jokes in Pakistan were about Kumble and Prasad), and grudgingly acknowledged Sachin’s genius (hyphenating his greatness with likes of Inzamam and Saeed Anwar— Excuse me, were they serious?), are now singing hosannas to Virat, MSD and Ashwin in our commentary boxes. The more intellectually inclined, have been left searching for such obtuse reasons, that it beats the common man. At a public function that coincided with an India vs Pakistan match in the ongoing T20 world cup, Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s greatest polymaths, said that he wouldn’t mind India losing because an India win would only accentuate the current mood of jingoism and extreme nationalism in the nation. Seriously sir?
Dr Guha’s highly nuanced comment, is bound to be misconstrued in times, when nuance in this country has gone missing, but most genuine cricket fans are enthused by the prospect of a great contest—something which a match involving Pakistan these days seldom carries. All Indian fans still want India to win against Pakistan, every single time we play them, but as cricket fans we want Pakis to bring that maniac energy and “never say never” zeitgeist that marked their teams of 80s and 90s. We want Virat to score a century, but we want him to be tested by inswingers and yorkers of the sorts which Akram and Younis had made their absolute specialities, we are keen to see Ashwin dismiss all their batsmen, but we are also want to see an “upon my dead body” defence and counter attack that typified Inzamam ul Haq and dare I say we want to see a larger than life Imran Khan. Has there even been a sexier symbolism in the world of sport, than an ageing Imran, incorrigibly handsome and articulate with flowing mane, letting his opponent captain and world know, that Pakistan will fight like cornered tigers, by wearing a T-shirt with tiger emblazoned across it at World Cup Final toss in 1992?
This was the first memory of cricket for our generation and this was the last match which Imran played, captaining Pakistan to victory in 1992 world cup, and therein perhaps lies the story of Pakistan decline. In his famous short story “The Man who would be King”, Rudyard Kipling had hinted that aggressive and unruly populace, need a leader of a particular variety to lead them to greatness and to extract their innate genius. This leader, Kipling suggested is one who possesses the extraordinary skills and aggression of the natives, but also has the finesse and sophistication of an Occidental. The Oxford educated Imran Khan, filled this role to perfection and made world beaters of a team of young men who were exceptionally talented but were prone to infighting.
With Imran gone, the team started its slide almost instantaneously, but since the quality of team that Imran had built was so good, that even when Pakistan was sliding, it continued to dazzle. When Inzamam became captain a decade later, his nous told him that he lacked the finesse of Imran, but could mould the team on the basis of religion, which he did and Pakistan did throw up occasional sensational performance, most often led by an hirsute, soft spoken, perpetually invoking Allah, Inzamam. Once the big fella was gone, the descent was almost complete.
Today we have a Pakistani team, that drops catches, who are clearly way behind the curve when it comes to fitness, has a batting line up that is more frail than biscuit dunked in hot tea and is led in limited overs cricket by a man, whose retirement provokes several more jokes than his debut age did—and which says a lot!
And that precisely is the concern of cricket aficionados—in the limited world of international cricket, barely a few countries are considered competitive. To see, one of most exciting teams being reduced to a joke, gave us a sense of schadenfreude initially, but jokes at someone else’s expense have an appeal only if they are brief. After the initial mirth that the “Mauka Mauka” commercial provoked, its sequels have become a tad boring.