“You know, there was a Pakistani cricket team with five county captains, one of a kind in international cricket history. Asif Iqbal was captain at Kent, Zaheer Abbas at Gloucestershire, Intikhab Alam at Surrey, Majid Khan at Glamorgan and Mushtaq Mohammad at Northamptonshire. Son, leading an English County is no mean feat; it takes more than just a good cricketer to get the honour. Not long ago, only gentlemen got that rank, not professional cricketers.”
This, among many was a repeated story I heard my father narrate at an age I could absorb little. But this I understood; cricket was religion and Pakistani cricketers were its idols.
Growing up, I remember my father always speaking in particular about Fazal Mahmood with great love and admiration, a hero of a Pakistan I hadn’t seen. I imagined Fazal as not just being a champion fast bowler but also a really good looking bloke with a charismatic personality, a true poster boy of the time when my father himself was a kid. He often recalled how “Hanif Mohammad cycled from Garden (a municipality of old Karachi) to the National Stadium Karachi, to open the innings for Pakistan on the morning of a Test match. His mother packed his tiffin that he shared with his brothers at lunch.”
I knew this was the stuff of legends. There was an air of pride in my father’s voice as he reminisced about Pakistan cricket.
As an integral part of most households across the country, in cricket, people found solace in times of crisis and amplified exuberance in times of joy. It was not just a sport; it was a lifestyle, injected into the veins without a conscious effort. Kids are extremely impressionable and cricket had a large imprint on the youth of Pakistan.
While Vivian Richards was the undisputed king of cricket in our home, each family member had a Pakistani idol.
My two eldest brothers, being a decade older than me, had seen the glory days of Javed Miandad and Imran Khan and had illuminated their hearts with the duo. The eldest was a loyal Karachiite and maintained that it was Javed who was the grit and brains behind Pakistan cricket, accusing Imran of provincial nepotism and favoritism in selection. On the contrary, his younger brother was in awe of the man Imran Khan was; idolising Khan was always self explanatory. The third in line was our only brother who graduated from club level to play first-class cricket in Pakistan. He was a Shoaib Mohammad fan. Shoaib, son of the original little master Hanif, was consistently among runs and technically very sound, but also painfully slow. He was, unjustly, the victim of many jokes because of his lack of aggression; one could draw certain parallels to Misbah-ul-Haq of today.
You can be born in a religion but it does not necessarily give you faith. Belief comes from one’s own experiences in life, a prayer that is answered, a miracle that is witnessed or an event that instills absolute conviction in your heart. One man that immediately became my cricketing deity was Wasim Akram, he was my poster boy. He could do no wrong; I celebrated his conquests and defended his failures. I fought and guarded him even when I knew he had gravely erred and sometimes even betrayed.
The arguments in the house were fierce and ended up in heated discussions on the dinner table. But like religion, it was to each his own and we were taught to respect differing opinions by our father who usually remained neutral and almost always had the last word. Our home was a reflection of a typical Pakistani household of the ’80s.
Quantum Physics has revolutionised how we interpret the physical world, giving us insight into the minutest inner workings of the world we live in. A principle of Quantum Physics, called the ‘observer effect’, states that the observer and the observed cannot be separated. The theory argues that the very act of observing an object or event, changes it in infinitesimal ways. Given this, in essence, every single person watching a cricket match is not just observing it, but is also contributing to its result. The theory, which is often cause for debate, applies well to what Pakistan cricket is experiencing, at least the mental side of things.
India was on a tour of Pakistan in 1989 when I first met cricket’s greatest modern-day icon, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. He was visiting my uncle’s home along with Ajay Sharma. Hardly the cricketers that excited me or ones I knew. Although, meeting Sachin was immediately a little special. He was a bit shy but his reputation preceded him, plus at only 16, he seemed closer to my age than other cricketers. Later on that tour, he was hit on the mouth by Waqar Younis but continued to bat in a blood-soaked shirt. Sachin’s sanctity was immediately established.
Fast forward 24 years later. Tendulkar received the largest and most emotional cricketing farewell in memory and his retirement speech was of a man with extreme humility and gratitude. Without glorifying his own achievements, he recognised the contribution of his wife, parents, siblings, coaches, doctors, peers, friends, the entire country and its media made toward his success.
Sachin was always given the accolades of a higher God among other cricketing deities created in India. When match referee Mike Denness reprimanded six Indian players in a Test match including a one-match suspension to Sachin for ball tampering, the entire Indian nation got behind their heroes and burnt their opponents to ashes, literally. Indian cricketers are best looked after by their people, making sure the men that excel at such craft are highly respected and provided with an extraordinary lifestyle. It’s a sign of a progressing civilization, a stark contrast to their neighbours.