x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A nation united on one night of glory

The win at Lord's in the World Twenty20 buoyed Pakistan, infusing the country with a new energy at a time when good news is either rare or despairingly short lived.

The win at Lord's in the World Twenty20 buoyed Pakistan, infusing the country with a new energy at a time when good news is either rare or despairingly short lived. With an economy teetering on fragile edges, terrorism stalking every major city, Taliban knocking at the gates and a sagging national morale, the cricket victory was celebrated in a delirious reverie.

The headlines in yesterday's newspapers echoed these sentiments. "Cricket team has made a disappointed nation happy" read the lead of Jang, the country's most popular Urdu paper. "Team lifts trophy, nation's spirits," read The News, a leading English daily. And Dawn, the country's most prestigious paper, termed the victory as a "feel-good gift for he nation". The Lahore-based Daily Times reported mobile phone services remained clogged long after the match as "everyone was calling relatives and friends to share their happiness".

The prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani said: "The winning of the match has created hope at a time when the whole nation was in depression." Firecrackers were set off in jubilation and reverberated throughout the country after the winning run was scored at Lord's. The whole country seemed to be transfixed to the match broadcast live. Roads were deserted between 8pm and midnight. After the win, people danced on the streets and hugged strangers as they exchanged congratulatory words. The green flag of Pakistan was raised with pride.

It was a rare occasion where an all-enveloping sense of Pakistani nationalism eclipsed the ethnic tensions, societal divisions and provincial unrest that otherwise threaten to tear this country's fragile national fibre apart. Cricket binds this country. It is perhaps the only British legacy to remain non-controversial and is not despised. Instead, cricket stirs passions. It transcends ethnic, linguistic and political divides.

A more poignant fact was the players who played the most decisive role in making Pakistan the world champions belonged to the North West Frontier Province, which has been ravaged by Taliban insurgency and is grappling with millions of internally displaced people. Younus Khan, the captain, belongs to Mardan. Shahid Afridi, the flamboyant all-rounder, is from Kohat; Umar Gul, the fast bowler, is from Swat, where the military launched an offensive to wrest it out of Taliban hands.

Nearly two million people have reportedly fled fighting in north west Pakistan, most since May when the military began an offensive against the Taliban. The United Nations has launched an appeal for US$543million (Dh1.9bn) to avert a humanitarian crisis. But on a night of celebrations, such gloomy details were put at the backburner. The camps for the displaced people in NWFP erupted with joy. "For the past one year, we had not received any good news," one unnamed person from Swat said while talking to Geo television network. "Today, we are very happy."

Even in far-flung villages, the final was followed passionately and provided a spectacle. In Rohela Tajeka, an Eastern Punjabi village just two kilometres from the Indian border, guests at a wedding turned their attention to the match. The groom, an avid cricket fan, had arranged for a giant screen for the guests to be able to watch the match. After Pakistan won, guests and villagers took out automatic weapons and fired in the air.

"The groom had to plead with everybody not to fire as some rivals were present at the wedding and guards were armed to the teeth," Zaman Wattoo, one of the guests, said. "Any misunderstanding could turn into a clash." smasood@thenational.ae