Crunch time in Mohali - Irfan Husain - Wednesday 30th March 2011

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FASTEN your seatbelts, folks: it`s crunch time for Pakistan. And about time, too. This cricket extravaganza has been on for far too long. I never imagined when I went to watch Pakistan play Kenya in the new stadium in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, over a month ago, that I would still be following our team`s progress now.
Over the past few weeks, various advertising jingles have been drilling holes in my head. One, in particular, sets my teeth on edge each time it`s on. This is the ad for a cell phone in which a young man with raging hormones attempts to rhyme `twitter` with `better`. The author of this jingle should be flogged for this atrocious ad, and if the young singer gets a few lashes, I won`t complain to the Human Rights Commission. Some mistakes need to be punished forcefully to stop the rising tide of bad taste.
But seriously, the plethora of raucous ads not only jangle our nerves, but also intrude at critical moments in the match we are watching. I realise this is a price we have to pay for following the fluctuating fortunes of our cricket team, but can`t Pemra, the regulatory body, please set some standards?
Over the years, after hours of nail-biting tension followed by a huge disappointment as our men in green manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again, I have devised a technique to lessen the dull ache of terminal let-down. My method consists of hedging my involvement by betting against Pakistan, so that if our team loses, I will at least have won my bet. And if they win, the pleasure I get from their victory is set off against my loss.These are small bets, so the (dwindling) Husain bank account is not depleted overnight. And usually, the target of my hedging bets is my old friend Javed Ali Khan. I send Javed text messages from across the world to rub it in if I am up, and he does the same to me. I`m down in the current series as Pakistan has done unexpectedly well, but my day will come. Maybe as early as today when we play India.
But to tell the truth, it`ll take more than a hundred rupees (crisp note, please) from Javed to console me if we get beaten. I recall the ignominious defeat we suffered against Australia in the 1999 final when we collapsed with barely a whimper at Lord`s. When my English friends consoled me and asked what happened to our team, I was tempted to snarl at them to bugger off, and drown my sorrows at a nearby pub.
My son Shakir is more bullish about our prospects than I am, and has been tweeting furiously, hyping up our team. I`ll have a hard time consoling him if we lose. Many voices of reason have been saying this is only a game, and may the best team win. This is all well and good in theory, but I have invested so much time and emotion into the Pakistan cricket team that it`s hard to take such a philosophical approach. To those who say it`s as important to be a good loser as it is to be a gracious winner, I reply: show me a good loser and I`ll show you a loser.
I must say I feel for our team in Mohali: seldom will eleven men be asked to shoulder such a heavy burden of national pride. And while this is equally true for the Indian team, our boys have the additional responsibility of lifting a country that has suffered so much in the recent past. Never mind that much of our pain has been entirely self-inflicted: common people are not responsible for the mess Pakistan finds itself in today. And they are the ones who could do with the lift a victory would provide.
And while on the subject, let me say that Rehman Malik`s absurd statement about keeping a watch on our team is truly fatuous and uncalled for. Even by his low standards, our interior minister`s unnecessary attempt to undermine our team`s morale tops the long list of gaffes he has committed. For once I agree with Imran Khan when he says that instead of watching the team, we should be watching Rehman Malik.
The fact is that our team has already suffered from the spot-fixing scandal that surfaced during Pakistan`s tour of England last year. The accused players have been suspended from the game, and now face a trial in London. More importantly for us, our team has been deprived of the services of these key players in the World Cup. To rake up this unsavoury episode at this crucial juncture smacks not just of poor judgment, but a monumental lack of sensitivity. The thought that this guy is in charge of internal security is enough to give us collective insomnia.
In a way I`m glad that Manmohan Singh invited our prime minister to watch the big match with him today. Maybe they can sort out Kashmir during the break, while resolving other issues in between overs. The downside is that the presence of our PM could prove a distraction for our players. I recall that in the late Fifties, President Eisenhower came on a visit to Pakistan, and was invited to Karachi`s National Stadium by Ayub Khan to watch a session of the ongoing Test match between Pakistan and the West Indies. We were batting, and in the space of an hour or so, our side collapsed because our batsmen fell trying to impress the two presidents.
I`m sure this won`t happen in Mohali, but if it does, we`ll know whom to blame. I think this is why Asif Zardari didn`t go to India: we blame him for enough already without adding a defeat in Mohali to the list.
The big question, of course, is whether Shoaib Akhtar will play or not. Here I agree with Imran Khan again: Shoaib is a wicket-taking bowler who is capable of rocking any batting side in the world. If he can hurl a few thunderbolts to send back Tendulkar and Sehwag before they run away with the game, I, for one, will forgive him all his past transgressions.

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