Pakistani cricket - anarchic, maddening, wonderful. Their path to the World Twenty20 trophy was potted with pitfalls. It was Pakistan cricket in microcosm.
Younus does it his way
Pakistani cricket - anarchic, maddening, wonderful. Would we have it any other way? Perhaps. But would we be able to enjoy the slings and arrows of such outrageous talent as Shahid Afridi, Younus Khan and Umar Gul without the whole system perpetually living on the edge of combustion? I doubt it. Pakistan's World Twenty20 victory at the home of cricket was a triumph for the sport, not just for the 160 million people their extraordinary cricketers represent.
Their path to the trophy was potted with pitfalls. It was Pakistan cricket in microcosm. Not a day passed without another issue being sent to test them. Any one of them would have derailed the entire campaign of most other sides in the competition. Pakistan's players barely batted an eyelid. They arrived late, with no time for suitable practice, prompting a thrashing in the opening match by England. "Everyone knows we are slow starters," laughed the captain, Younus, whose demeanour is every bit as beguiling as his batting.
"He is either the happiest man in the world, or someone has been giving him laughing gas," commented one agency reporter. Cue the usual outcry. The chief selector steps down, railing against the captain, and the coach in the process. The necessary hefty win over the Netherlands was achieved with a swagger, but followed quickly by another defeat, to Sri Lanka. "This is entertainment - like WWF," reasons Younus, merrily.
Two players go down injured. Abdul Razzaq, until recently persona non grata after quitting Pakistan cricket to play in the rebel Indian Cricket League instead, is summoned. They muddle on. Then the daily grind begins to ease. Afridi, whose performances with the ball have hauled his side to this point, suddenly locates the middle of his bat again, and all is well with the world. Their rivals did not stand a chance.
"I am very proud of what we achieved," said Younus, immediately after guiding his side to the title. He dedicates the win to the memory of the late Bob Woolmer, then says: "I will talk about my future after the press conference." No further questions, then Younus, after thanking the media for how they treated him, announces his retirement from Twenty20 cricket. He did it his way. Among the press corps, he has another convert: "Younus Khan is my new favourite cricketer," says another reporter.
They did not even get their lap of honour quite right. So excited were the players, they raced around the boundary edge at Usain Bolt-pace. Only Afridi, with all the experience of 13 deeply-storied years of international cricket behind him, took time to savour the moment. Pakistan have the team that their fans deserve, and one that is too good for their board. A lot is made of India's 'Blue Billion', but grounds are rarely alive with more vibrancy than when Pakistan are playing, especially in the UK. When Afridi walks to the wicket, hold on to your hats.
One thing we can all do without is narcissistic cricket administrators, in which the subcontinent as a whole specialises. They were at their sinister worst at the World Twenty20, making sure they were seen and having their voice heard at times of maximum exposure. They did their level best to sully the moment. As excitement ahead of the fairytale final of a well-run tournament was reaching its crescendo, they spied their chance. They announced the dispute over the 14 matches that had been taken away from Pakistan for the 2011 World Cup had reached impasse, and that they were to proceed with their legal motion against the ICC. Whatever the merits of their case, the timing was totally awry.
When the suits first convened to discuss the now murky issue of staging rights, the timing gave a clue as to how little they are actually bothered by on-field action. The meeting lasted four hours, and over-ran the start of Pakistan's match with Ireland. And amid the frenzy which followed Younus raising the trophy after winning the final, the sight of the board officials in their smartly pressed PCB blazers handing the cup to each other was galling. These brilliant young players had achieved their triumph in spite of them, not because of them.