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June 21, 2017

The metaphor of cricket


June 21, 2017

Nowhere does any sport adequately reflect a nation’s reality than the game of cricket does in the case of Pakistan. As soon as Pakistan’s skipper Sarfraz Ahmad took the last catch, the party began not only at the historic venue of The Oval but also across Pakistan.

TV screens were flooded with congratulatory messages from political leaders of all hues and colours. No one wanted to be left out in making his or her presence felt. The streets equally reflected massive jubilations sweeping through the land of Pakistan over what could rightly be termed as an epoch-making and historic victory.

What makes Pakistan defeating India to clinch the title a truly incredible feat is the presence of heavy odds against which this triumph has been achieved. For a team that has suffered the drought of international cricket for the last nine years and for whom a victory in any tournament of import has been elusive since its win of the T20 title in 2009, The Oval showing carries special importance.

Consider the following: you hardly make it to the Champions Trophy. You are ranked 8th on the ICC rankings and considered to be an underdog with the least chance of making it to the final, let alone clinching the title in the presence of such heavyweights as South Africa, India, Australia and England. You get massacred at the hands of your archrivals in the opening game – a massive defeat that hits at the roots of your confidence and morale.

From then onward, you pick up the broken pieces, fit them back into the frame and embark on the journey of redeeming your hurt pride. With every game, you get better by getting the momentum back and end up trouncing the defending champion in a comprehensive manner. You achieve your victory against a team that has refused not only to play you, but has also taken steps to isolate you globally. This is the stuff that legends are made of.

Pakistan’s love for cricket is explained by the fact that it is much more than merely a sport. The symbolism of the victory at The Oval represents a nation’s quest for glory in an inhospitable environment.

For a starter, cricket symbolises the national unity, pride and a sense of togetherness. Nothing brings a multiethnic, diverse and multilingual society together than the game of cricket. It provides a sense of wholesome identity that papers over the deep schisms afflicting the body politic.

The gradual rise of Pakistan cricket despite heavy odds in a way reflects Pakistan’s resilience in the face of daunting challenges. The complex and varied problems that Pakistan has been facing could break the back of any nation. A good example is terrorism, which has taken such a heavy toll on the country.

In addition to suffering losses to the tune of over $100 billion to its economy ever since the war on terror began, Pakistan has lived through the horrible nightmare of losing around 70,000 lives of its citizens. The APS tragedy was the watershed event. Its soul-piercing memory will remain deeply etched in the national psyche.

Pakistan’s encounter with terrorism is complex in view of the regional dynamics that add to its complexity. However, the most amazing thing about the country is that each time it has been written off, it has managed to bounce back with a vengeance. This applies as much to cricket as to its ability to fight challenges.

Compared to the US experience of Afghanistan, Pakistan has a better track record of dealing with the hydra-headed problem of terrorism. Thanks to an understanding between the civil and military leadership and their greater ownership of the war on terror, Pakistan’s successes – achieved as the result of operations Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasaad – have won global acclaim.

The phenomenal turnaround of Pakistan cricket owes itself to the injection of young blood in the team. The vigour, talent and sheer aggression of the likes of Hassan Ali and Fakhar Zaman demonstrated has had a domino effect on the senior lot besides reshaping the rules of the game.

This highlights the critical role that the youth of Pakistan can play in leading the country towards progress and development. At a time when the world grapples with the phenomenon of an ageing population, our population matrix is defined by a predominant youth bulge, who account for 55 percent to 60 percent of the overall population. This presents both a challenge as well as an opportunity.

If requisite investments are made in empowering and educating them and expanding on their skill-set, they can emerge as an engine of growth, with the capacity to turbo-charge the drive for socio-economic advancement. As a result, public policy formulation should account for their welfare as a factor of massive importance. The perils of failure on this count are infinite.

It is indeed a welcome sign that the youth’s issues have started to attract the attention of the political parties and their manifestos increasingly reflect this. They are coming up with different programmes and schemes to enlist the support of the youth, which augurs well for the future.

Lastly, the marvellous success of Pakistan cricket at The Oval has come about as a result of excellent team work and all players have duly played their part. They have collectively complemented each other’s strength under an overarching vision and the command of their captain. There was certainly a plan at work that was carefully mapped out through consultation and engagement between the team’s management and the players. Pakistan cricket is believed to have been suffering from fissures that have affected the team’s performance to a large extent. Since the players have closed their ranks and forged unity, they have ended up attaining the impossible.

The importance and relevance of this analogy cannot be over-emphasised. Many of our problems that are perennial in nature and have defied attempts at resolution owing to the lack of participatory approach. When confrontation – and not cooperation – marks conduct, durable results cannot be achieved.

The time has come for our stakeholders to agree on the fundamentals to achieve national objectives. Excellent team work presents the way forward to help the country unlock its latent potential. There are hopeful signs that there is a broader consensus on the way forward for Pakistan despite the occasional hiccups.

Cricket symbolises the national yearning for glory and the revival of national spirit. Beneath the surface, there is a thread that binds us in an unbreakable bond of nationhood as well as a reservoir of energy that is ready to power our journey of progress. We only have to set the fundamentals right.


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