Feting Mohali’s antiheroes by Zafar Hilaly Saturday, April 16, 2011

What precisely did the Pakistan cricket team achieve in Mohali that deserved they be feted, garlanded, eulogised and showered with millions of rupees from public funds? They lost a match they should have won; their batting was disgraceful and their fielding was even worse; the captain messed up on the batting order and the power play and shot his mouth off when he should have said nothing. Their fault was not that they failed, but that they failed to give success a chance.

Of course, that’s not to say that the team should have been pummelled on arrival, although a rotten egg or two would have been a more accurate barometer of public feelings. But to welcome them as heroes was gross. They arrival should have been ignored. Their woeful performance at Mohali deserved no better.

What, then, was the point of the wholly contrived reception? Was it to show pride in Pakistan’s reaching the semi-finals of an event which has only six serious competitors? Should we not, almost as a matter of course, be expected to reach the semi-final given the popular interest, money and attention lavished on cricket? Avoiding defeat by Bangladesh, Ireland, Holland, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Canada and even a weakened West Indies, is hardly a cause for celebration.

What a contrast from the time when we were world champions in squash and hockey, but our boys got little attention from the media. It is sad to see journalists stumped for superlatives in praise of a cricket team which occupies a lowly position in world cricket rankings and, for that matter, the 200th-ranked tennis player in the world merely because he is from Lahore. So much have standards fallen that the ordinary now passes for great.

We are told ad nauseam about our reservoir of cricket talent but very little about the universal fact that achievement has more to do with effort than ability. In other words, even if there is plenty of talent our future will be bleak unless we can match that with hard work and diligence. True, miracles can be achieved, but mostly by sweating. Unfortunately for our cricketers, hard work is synonymous with oppressive drudgery. Take Shoaib Akthar, for example, who failed to even achieve a 70-percent level of fitness on the recent tour. There was a time when he looked threatening as he ran up to bowl, but now he looks like a ruined piece of nature, a caricature of his former self, so worn out and so chubby.

The prime minister said he was grateful to the cricket team for providing him the opportunity to visit India. If he was so eager to go to India he could have gone with the kabaddi team. We keep saying sports and politics should not be linked and then do just the opposite by having prime ministers talk over war-and-peace issues during the course of a cricket match and, indeed, use the fixture as a much-sought-after opportunity to do so. No wonder a puzzled world has washed its hands of the Pakistan-India conundrum.

As for the peace that Gilani thinks is in the offing as a result of his chat with Manmohan Singh in Mohali, if the Indian TV talk show the other day on which I was a panellist, is anything to go by, the level of paranoia, hate and suspicion of Pakistan manifested by Indian panellists suggests that peace is no more around the corner than is a white Christmas.

Undeterred, Mr Gilani laid on the praise with a trowel when he had the team over for tea at his official residence. Perhaps he sensed an opportunity to burnish his own credentials with the awam in an attempt to lift his wilted standing among them. But there is little that is happening in Pakistan nowadays which brings cheer to the public’s heart, and certainly not the performance of his dysfunctional government. What Gilani failed to appreciate is that in the public mind this team deserved no glory and hence there was no glory that they possessed which could have rubbed off on him.

“Show me a good and gracious loser and I will show you a failure” is a sentiment which best captures what the public believes. Instinctively reflecting this sentiment, someone said when asked what Afridi could do to assuage the public hurt: “To have the team voluntarily forfeit their match fee as penance and donate it towards the construction of a fielding academy.” He recalled that when an archer of the Roman army consistently failed to hit a target, Emperor Gallerius sent him packing with this admonition: “Not to have hit once in so many trials argues the most splendid talents for missing.” We, on the other hand, shower money on those who miss, and extol their talent.

Prior to the match in Mohali I felt the team had done well to make it to the semi-finals, considering the threats and scandals which had led to one player fleeing and left others with sullied reputations. And, of course, the unsettling impact of the blood and gore in which Pakistan is awash. But, thereafter, I had second thoughts. Had not Italy also have terror, murder and bloodshed for thirty years, under the Borgias and yet managed to produce a Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance? True, we are only at the beginning of what seems to be a long war, but the only exceptional talent we have produced over the past decade is Kamran Akmal, perhaps the one Test cricketer who demonstrates, with unfailing regularity and without a tinge of remorse, that he can drop a catch with his left hand, his right hand and even with both his hands.

It’s just as well that the Indians were indulgent at Mohali because, had the boot been on the other foot, I suspect that their players would have been arrested on charges of match fixing. Actually, had the bookies not had India as the favourites, they would have gone on a shooting spree. Tendulkar look mightily relieved that he had finally found someone to hold on to a catch and end his wretched knock.

The Mohali cricket saga is another example of our loss of sense of proportion and of a state of denial about ourselves and our cricketing prowess. While the prognosis seems clear, we have yet to face up to its diagnosis.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=41883&Cat=9

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