There was a time when being taken by one’s father to a Pakistan cricket game was a moment to enjoy and cherish. Whatever the result, chances were you saw a good game. You probably also were lucky to shake hands with a great player or get his autograph. This great player probably fondled your hair, asked a few questions about your school and then strode down to the hallowed ground to either deliver a furious over to dismiss a couple of batsmen or with his willow, dispatch the red leather and cork all around the field. The afternoon was spent in the company of your father explaining to you the finer points of the game: what is long-on, long-off, and why a spinner needs a defensive field. You returned home with a warm glow, knowing you had watched your team put up a good display. Perhaps, your idol won the man-of-the-match award as well.
Fast-forward 30 years, and taking your child to a Pakistan cricket game is likely to get you arrested for child abuse. Chances are your child will require months of psychiatric therapy in later life to overcome the trauma of being taken to such a game. If you live in the West, you are liable to be sued by your child for causing untold distress and stunting his or her emotional development.
The ordeal starts well before the first ball is delivered — either your favourite bowler has been suspected for an illegal action in the days leading up to the game or your key batsman has had a very public fight with the administrators of the game; either a few members of your team have been caught taking money to fix a game or the coach has been fired — this being the third firing of the year.
Then the game starts. Your team bats first. Invariably, the first wicket falls in the first three overs, and most decidedly so to a stupid shot, which is devoid of any logic or necessity. The opposition smells blood and puts under pressure the incoming batsman, who perhaps, a few days ago, had let the press know his desire to be remembered as a legend. This wanna-be-legend then plays a reckless shot and is untying his shoelaces in the dressing room a few moments later. A senior batsmen walks to the crease and for a moment it appears a recovery is underway. However, this optimism is soon dashed upon the rocks of a dubious decision by the umpire, which your team either does not have the presence of mind to refer or has already exhausted its quota of appeals on weak cases.
Then appears on the scene a talisman. The crowd becomes expectant. Surely, he will deliver the goods with his long bat. Surely, he has matured over the years, nay decades, he has been around for. His first shot is scintillating, sending the crowd into hysteria. His second shot, however, silences the crowd as a loose skyward shot is collected in the safe hands of long-on. Pretty soon, your team’s batting flounders to more poor shot selection and some good bowling by the opposition. In the process, your team has enabled an opposition bowler to post his best returns to date. Your team barely ekes out a run to avoid its all-time low score and after a few sheepish smiles from your last few batsmen, the innings comes to an end.
You have still not lost hope. Your mind cooks up a tantalising scene of your bowlers going through the opposition batting line-up like a Lahori goes through the trotters cooked by one Mr Phajjay of Gawalmandi. Soon you realise your dream will not materialise as their opening batsmen belt your weakened bowling line-up all over the park. After the first half-hour of their batting, you realise the cause is lost. The day comes to a sad end as you return home muttering curses under your breath and vowing never to watch another Pakistan game.
As is well known, we Pakistanis are suckers for punishment — just take a look at the people we elect and re-elect or welcome back into power through the back door again and again — and before the next game starts, you are keen to get tickets to the game. It really is a case of once whipped, twice expectant!
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2014.