The jinx is broken

  • We must give credit to team Pakistan for pulling off this heist in the most rockstar fashion.

THE BACKDROP

Ever since cricket started to occupy a big chunk of my consciousness, I have always been left wanting when it comes to India-Pakistan matches in World Cups and ICC Finals. The statistics are cold and brutal. Before last Sunday, they read as follows:


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ICC tournaments and World Cups India Pakistan
ODIs 8 2
T20s 5 0
OVERALL 13 2
WC 11 0
Finals 3 0

Basically, we have always folded against India when it has mattered the most. All the arguments about Pakistan having won more matches historically against India are rubbished because we have failed to upend them in global tournaments. As a Pakistani cricket fan, this hurts me. It hurts me not because of the sheer number of years this stigma has plagued our team, but because each and every one of those times when we met the other in one final or the other, I thought we had them. Every. Single. Time.

Bangalore 1996

Johannesburg 2007

Mohali 2011

These are scars that haven’t fully healed. There is that nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me we almost had them. Almost. It tells me that we were the better side in every one of those encounters; that we should’ve won had it not been for the very Pakistani upsets that went about in each of those games. Would’ve could’ve should’ve. Nobody cares about what could have been. What the world knows is what actually happened.

And this is a fact that my Indian friends do not make light of. Since 2013, I have been privileged to watch Pakistan-India matches in a multicultural setting with my Indian friends significantly outnumbering my Pakistani ones, and have come to realise that quite a lot of similarities exist between the fans of the cricketing giants. We are all the same, sharing similar naïve opinions on and unrealistic expectations from our teams. Both of us down the bottle of emotional alcohol before our matches in order to inhibit any sort of rational thoughts that may arise in our minds. Both of us participate in the game as if we are actually present on the field ourselves. We treat cricket as if its war. We are passionate about it beyond all confines of common sense. And we hope for victories in impossible situations. Our hopes only fade away after the asking run rate has climbed beyond the theoretically achievable rate of 36 runs an over. And both of us have things to say to each other before AND after the match.

That’s my entire contribution towards warm things like peace, friendship and coexistence. Now let’s speak about real things. My Indian friends of late had acquired a sort of inner peace and nirvana regarding matches against Pakistan. One cannot blame them for this. History, statistics, the current Indian batting lineup, common sense, Pakistan’s legendary unpredictability, Kohli and recent conclusive victories only point towards one logical conclusion; this India cannot be beaten by this Pakistan. That is until you realise that unpredictability works both ways. That there are certain Black Swans waiting to happen. It appeared, from conversations that I had with my Indian friends, India would NEVER lose to Pakistan in any ICC final. There was dismissiveness in their voices. Very rightfully so. The Pakistan of recent times has been anything BUT the Pakistan of 90s that we grew up on. The gap between the 8th ranked team and the 3rd ranked team will always manifest itself in a Pakistani defeat unless Pakistan were to do something that only Pakistan can do. Magic.

The thing with magic is that it seldom happens. But when it does happen, it’s SPECTACULAR. That is the hope that kept me going all through these years. This thought has helped me shrug off the hilarious Indian media campaigns of ‘MAUKA MAUKA’ with a dismissive smile on my face. This thought has helped me survive many a statistical, rational and quantitative debate with my Indian friends. The thought that, one day, the bubble will burst, and, on THAT day, I will sing praises for team Pakistan like no other. Because from THAT point onwards, the jinx will be broken.

THE TOURNAMENT

We must give credit to team Pakistan for pulling off this heist in the most rockstar fashion. Barely making it into the tournament as the 8th ranked team in the world, Pakistan lost the first match against India in a spectacularly Pakistani manner. Cut 124 runs adrift, Pakistan was nowhere ready for the tournament.

An Indian friend: ‘What happened to Pakistan yesterday lol?’
A Sri Lankan senior: ‘The way Pakistan and Sri Lanka played their first matches, they’re both going OUT.’
My response: ‘Hey the tournament is still going on so let’s hope they turn things around.’

That’s my standard response in all defeats. There is overt display of hope and a covert sense of impending doom. That feeling of doom is then washed down with emotional alcohol before the next match. It’s hard to not watch Pakistan’s matches without being drunk on serious emotions.

Sarfraz Ahmed scored unbeaten 61 to help Pakistan win against Sri Lanka. (Source: Reuters)

So then Pakistan moved on to the next match. Team numero uno, South Africa. Pakistan’s strength, its world class bowling, started to gain traction. South Africa were made short work of in quick time.

Enter Sri Lanka. Having won their previous game (against India) in spectacular fashion, Sri Lanka was pumped for this virtual Quarter Final. They even had us on the ropes with 7 down and 75 to go. El Capitan and Lady Luck stepped up and took us over the line. Pakistan made it into the Semis.

Me: ‘Semis are decided. Pakistan v England, India v Bangladesh.’

My Indian friend: ‘So I guess it’s going to be India vs England in the Final assuming everything goes well?’

My response: ‘Well that’s the logical conclusion but with Pakistan you never know. We might KO England. We can do that to anyone on our day.’

And then followed a long debate on statistics and history and whatever.

Enter England. Tournament favorites and 2nd ranked team in the world. Clear home ground advantage. Knocked out with calculation, disdain and precision. It was as if Pakistan had acquired some Australian habits. Pakistan advanced to the finals to meet (very likely) Indians.

THE FINAL

I knew there would come a day when Pakistan would win against India in an ICC Final. What I did not foresee coming was that it would be so cold, brutal and one-sided. This was a surprise even to me!

But I did always believe that there would come a day when all the unpredictability of Pakistan would end up on the positive side and we would fire in all departments; batting, bowling, fielding; to overcome our biggest cricket rival, our own unpredictability. It only makes it sweeter to know that there was a Championship trophy on the other end of the tunnel. Pakistan crawled through that tunnel for many, many years without seeing so much as an indication of light. But then, the light came and it came in all its glory.

It soon got worse for India, as Shadab Khan got into the act with the crucial wickets of Yuvraj Singh (22) and Kedar Jadhav (9) to slide to 72 for 6. (Source: ICC)

India were badly manhandled in the final. It was the perfect way to start off a new era in our ICC faceoff history. The era of ‘3-1’ in finals. It’s not zero anymore. Times have changed. New winds are blowing. This was the ultimate faceoff. The best batting side against the best bowling side. And we now know that great things are possible only if we keep believing.

The one-sidedness of this defeat may have come as a huge shock to the Indians. That can happen especially if one convinces oneself that nothing contrary to one’s beliefs will ever happen. Indians believed that this unchallenged dominance over Pakistan in world cricket events will always prevail. Well, not anymore.

Pakistan played the final like Australia. India played it like Pakistan. Indians even behaved like Pakistanis. Especially when Hardik Pandya was hitting the ball out of the park. That gave them hope. Similar to how we achieve hope when one of our tail-enders decides to stop caring about life and just hit every ball in vain. Hey, the match isn’t theoretically over until it’s beyond the asking rate of 36 runs an over. It was cute. However, I give full credit to Pandya for putting up a fight. It was the most entertaining part of the Indian innings and it made me sweat. So well done, Pandya! Without your heroics, our spectacular victory would have been lost amidst allegations of match-fixing and tournament rigging and what not. I’m glad that there was some fight left in the Indians. And not to forget the amazing display of sportsmanship and heart, shown by Virat Kohli after the match, who deserves a big round of applause. It takes a big man to accept defeat with a smile on his face. And we can all learn a thing or two from Mr. Kohli himself.

As for my Indian friends, well, there may be more matches in future where India dominates Pakistan in world events. It’s just a game. We both love it. There is certainly a possibility of another string of Pakistani defeats. It’s just what we do. But always remember London 2017. Because when we do, eventually, bring our game, it settles the encounter in a cold, brutal and devastating fashion. So try not to give us any more ‘MAUKAS’ in future. We just might avail them again.

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Usman Afzal Minhas

Usman Afzal Minhas

The writer holds some degrees, is passionate about cricket, music, chess and statistics. Currently he is working at 'I don't have a job'.