x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Scenes of despair in Pakistan

After days of feverish excitement it was a disappointing end for the fans of Shahid Afridi's men.

Image	Pakistani fans watch the semi-final match against India on a giant screen in Karachi yesterday. The government declared half-day holiday in offices and schools to enable the cricket-loving people to enjoy the exciting moments of the match.
Image Pakistani fans watch the semi-final match against India on a giant screen in Karachi yesterday. The government declared half-day holiday in offices and schools to enable the cricket-loving people to enjoy the exciting moments of the match.

It was a day that brought a country to a standstill. And if anyone slept last night in Pakistan they would have woken up this morning to painful memories at what had happened.

Yesterday the citizens of Lahore, deprived of international cricket on their shores, made their way to any local park or to Gaddafi Stadium.

The idea being to create that "home" atmosphere to support their team in the World Cup semi-final against India — weird when you think that all this is being done in front of a large projector screen.

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For those unable to make their way to the big stadiums, there was always the "paan" or tea shop on the street corner where you could pick up a hot beverage and enter into heated discussions with fellow diners!

In a country like Pakistan which is struggling in these tough economic times and where any loss of productivity is always detrimental for the economy, it boggles the mind to see all provincial governments declaring a half day at offices and for schools and universities to close down and cancel exams.

But this is cricket we and all commonsense fades into oblivion when we talk about the game and its followers.

In any case, no work would have happened anywhere on this day. There was just one topic, one issue and one agenda for everyone, young and old; male and female; rich and poor; liberal and conservative.

The journey to the stadium via deserted roads to see the large screen was an adventure in itself — hoards of enthusiastic fans dressed in green, waving green flags, blocking the intersections, dancing the traditional "bhangra" in eager (and some would say optimistic)anticipation of a home victory.

Inside the stadium, the atmosphere could only be described as electric — the air of anticipation was heavy with hopes of a Pakistan win.

Men, women, children and grandparents — many with hardly any knowledge of the game — were just there as if driven by a common cause of beating their arch rivals.

Many of them had painted faces, others held flags and a few had prayers beads, pleading for divine intervention.

The mood of the nation ebbed and flowed with the game; Virender Sehwag initially was the most abused man in Lahore, and once Pakistan fought back through Wahab Riaz, chants of "Long Live Wahab" could be heard at frequent intervals.

Outside the stadium, and in different parts of the country, every wicket was greeted by gunfire into the air.

Pakistan were expected to chase down India's 260 - the general feeling was one of quiet but careful optimism at the interval, as fans helped themselves to healthy doses of samosas and "chai" and discussed plans for victory celebrations.

As Pakistan wickets began to tumble, the mood changed from carnival to sombre. Grown men started to look dejected.

And so continued the sorry state of Pakistani affairs as a procession of batsmen came and went.

Empty vacuous looks on supporters' eyes replaced the laughter and mirth of a few hours earlier. It was all too much for some as many were seen openly crying.

One could have been forgiven for thinking the stadium was a funeral wake — such is the power of cricket and the fear of losing to India.

Millions of SMS messages were exchanged, most depressed, many angry, some genuinely bitter.

What will happen next is not clear.

Many supporters clearly blaming Misbah-ul-Haq for the batting fiasco may not be satisfied with words alone. There will be a few protest marches and some effigies of players burnt but the effect on the psyche of the nation, despite all romantic notions of sport uniting two nations, is clearly going to be felt in the coming days.

Cricket may have won today, but Pakistan lost and it will hurt.

sports@thenational.ae