My Pakistani World Cup romance
It was 1992, and I was seven. We were living in Goth Machi at that time, near the border of Punjab and Sindh.
I remember Moin Khan's winning boundary in the semi-final, and Wasim Akram dismissing Chris Lewis. I wasn’t old enough to comprehend what had transpired when Imran Khan eventually lifted the trophy, or how it had actually happened. But the next day was declared a national holiday in Pakistan, and which seven-year-old in his or her right mind won't enjoy that?
It was 1996. Eleven years old, and in Rawalpindi.
I was certain Pakistan would win the world cup. We were hosting it. We had a cool Junoon anthem to go along with it. We were also the defending champions. I was told that we were world champions in three other sports too - Hockey, Squash and Snooker. What they didn’t say was that the Snooker bit was only the Amateur Snooker Championship, but that didn’t matter to an 11-year-old. Least of all an 11-year-old now attempting to copy Waqar Younis's bowling action, and convinced that he was doing a good job at it ( I wasn’t ).
Waqar ended up getting walloped around the park by Ajay Jadeja. Aamir Sohail returned the favour by walloping Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad to pin drop silence in what was then still called Bangalore. But then Aamir Sohail lost it, and so did Pakistan. My dreams shattered, against the arch-enemy, in arch enemy's territory. Even the TV host was in tears. I would never copy Waqar's bowling action again.
It was 1999. Still in Rawalpindi.
Rawalpindi's own Shoaib Akhtar had the world at his feet. So did Pakistan. I hated the lime green kits, but I might have been the only one. Again, I was convinced we would win. We had waltzed into the tournament as one of the favourites and had one of the fiercest fast bowlers in history destroying batting lineups left, right and centre. We won the toss in the final and elected to bat, and Saeed Anwar looked sublime. So very sublime. Until he decided to change the grip on his bat. It all came crashing down after that, in a very Pakistani manner. My 14-year-old self was crushed, and I wasn't the only one. This was supposed to be our moment.
It was 2003, and we had moved back home to Lahore.
After having Australia on the mat at 86 for 4, Andrew Symonds happened. Waqar bowled a bunch of beamers, and the game was as good as over. Somewhere in between Symonds' 143 and our group stage exit confirming washout versus Zimbabwe, Wasim Akram picked up his 500 ODI wicket, against the Netherlands. I didn't care. He probably didn't either. I despised this world cup. If they ever invent a memory deleting medication, removing this from my past is what I'll use it for. Not because Pakistan got knocked out early, but because the whole world cup was more bland than British food.
Then it was 2007. Again Lahore.
My interest in cricket was at its lowest ebb, and even the loss versus Ireland didn’t hit me as hard as it hit others. As far as I was concerned, this was the weakest, most unimaginative Pakistani team I had ever seen. Inzamam's and the squad's nauseating religious vibe only made it worse. I was prepared to watch a post-2003 Rashid Latif team over this monstrosity.
2011. Karachi for work, Lahore for vacations.
There's one image that captures this world cup the Pakistani way. It isn't Wahab Riaz rattling Yuvraj Singh's stumps. It has something to do with Shahid Afridi, but not that now iconic celebration off his bowling. It is him catching Upul Tharanga off Hafeez's bowling versus Sri Lanka. A mildly challenging regulation catch, following by him throwing the ball above in celebration, and screaming, almost like he was livid. The kind of raw emotion we grew up seeing in Wasim and Waqar's eyes when the Pakistani cat was among the opposition pigeons. Off on onwards we rolled, not to be held back by the momentary lapse in concentration versus New Zealand either. But then it happened again, versus India. In India. In the semifinal no less, after dropping Tendulkar what must have felt like a billion times. If you saw my engagement photos from the ceremony the day after, you might think it was the worst day of my life. It probably was, but not because of the engagement. ( Zunaira if you're reading this, I'm extremely happy we got married ).
2015. Vancouver, Canada. Married with one kid.
There was Misbah-ul-Haq. There was Mohammad Irfan. There was the now-familiar world cup loss versus India (It's becoming so common it's not even painful anymore) and then there was Wahab, breathing fire down Australia's neck. I don't recall the Pakistani nation being as gracious in the loss as they were following the quarter-final defeat versus Australia. I was down, but not as devastated as I was following the semifinal loss from 2011.
2019. Vancouver, Canada. Married with two kids.
Almost as Pakistani a world cup as you can have. It was like reliving Dante's Divine Comedy, roller-coasting between Inferno and Paradiso. Or if you're a bigger fan of the visual arts, it was like Al Pacino's timeless "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in" from the otherwise forgettable Godfather III. Different context, but you know what I mean. Nevermind the 1992 comparisons, the only thing that would have made it quintessentially Pakistani was somehow going all the way. But that wasn't to be, perhaps to remind us that the world can make sense and be rational too.
2023. Somewhere, still married, hopefully with kids who can understand cricket.
The perpetual optimist inside me says we will win our second world cup. The pragmatist inside me knows no matter what, at least it won't be boring.