“One hell of a ride.” That is how New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum described his side’s run to the final of the 2015 World Cup on the eve of the match.
That they were bulldozed by Trans-Tasman rivals Australia in that game matters not. For a few weeks, McCullum and his men did take rugby-mad New Zealand on one hell of a ride. For a few weeks in New Zealand, McCullum’s cricket fought with rugby. And it won.
Fast forward to the next ICC event and it is Sarfraz Ahmed and his Pakistan that have taken their country for that hell of a ride. But they weren’t fighting rugby or any other sport; Pakistan has always been, and will always be, cricket country. They were fighting much more.
Had anyone said before this tournament that Pakistan will defeat South Africa, Sri Lanka and England to reach the final, he would have been laughed out of the room. Had anyone said that after the India defeat, he would have been escorted to a mental asylum.
But here we are. Here they are. If anyone is saying he saw this coming, then he is lying. If anyone is saying he can make heads or tails of this, then he is lying. If anyone can say he can truly encapsulate what this win means to Pakistan as a country, then he is lying.
The nation had dared not hope when the players had left for England. The team was in shambles; the cricket they played was out-dated, the squad they had was unbalanced, the captain leading them was inexperienced, the fielders that were supposed to back the bowlers were laughable, the batsmen who were supposed to take the leading role in batting-friendly conditions were woeful.
All the nation had was that poisoned chalice of a tag that an entire generation had grown up listening to — ‘unpredictable’ Pakistan. A dim hope to cling on to.
And boy did those 200 million gleefully drink from that most poisoned of chalices on June 14, 2017.
A country that had forgotten how to smile spent hours in deranged laughter.
A country that had gone silent shouted long and hard into the cool night.
A country that had grown too tired to move danced away its problems.
A country that was broken roared as one.
The eleven that played a near-perfect game in Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens were not eleven, they were 200 million. They were the exhausted labourer spending his afternoon lifting bricks in the smouldering heat, they were the middle-class man running late for his 9-5 job, they were the Prime Minister worrying about his JIT hearing. They were you. And they were me. They were all of us.
Hosts and favourites England weren’t England. They were angry bosses. They were corrupt politicians. They were a lack of basic facilities such as electricity and water. They were everything that plagues us as a nation.
For one glorious night, every single member of Pakistan’s 200 million defeated whatever problem he or she faced. For one glorious night, everything was all right with the world.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that,” said legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly.
The match between England and Pakistan showed the same holds true for Pakistan and cricket; the last remnants of their pride.
Come what may in the final, for the eleven in England and the 200 million back home, this has been one hell of a ride.