Pakistani Summer in England

28 جولائی 2016

If there is one area that has given Pakistan an enduring international presence, it has been the field of cricket. 7 years after independence, Pakistan stunned the world by beating England in 1954 at the very ground, Oval, which gave birth to the legendary Ashes contest between England and Australia. Spearheaded by Fazal Mahmood, Pakistan put, what arguably can be called the mightiest England side of the 20th century, on the mat at the Oval. The same England side went on to win the Ashes in Australia during its 1954-55 tour there.
Eight years later, Pakistan was given another full-fledged tour, this time under the callow Javed Burki, which in cricketing terms was a calamity, and spurred talk of Pakistan's Test status being rescinded.
Cricket has been a source of both national self-esteem and identity. It has brought joy, mismatched expectations, and heartbreak. It has lifted the national mood as well as deflated it. It has led to too much public chatter and to too much finger-pointing. Its bane has been its being used as a venue for accommodating posts where favorites can be parked. Individual brilliance does not matter if it is not backed by collective commitment.
The concept of merit and fairness has weak roots in Pakistan. Still, the sheer passion for the game and the drive to remain competitive, along with the volume of cricket being played at the grassroots, ensures that cricket now is huge and integral to local culture.
Hence, to see Pakistan being feted and hosted for a full tour in England during the summer of 2016 warms the heart. Of all the games played in England, cricket remains the preeminent marquee sport.
It was at Lord's - traditionally, the headquarters of world cricket - where Pakistan won against all odds the Twenty-20 World Cup in June 2009. Three months before, in March 2009, the Sri Lankan Cricket Team was attacked in Lahore - a tragedy which meant the virtual banishment of international cricket in Pakistan.
Historically, world cricket has had a rocky relationship with Pakistan with controversies galore. But this is one game that binds the nation and heals fissures. However, that has not prevented politicians from playing havoc.
This time around, Pakistan goes to England during a time of deep tumult in England and its vicinity. There has been a Brexit vote; there has been a new prime minister, Theresa May (a cricket lover, in whose marriage Benazir Bhutto played the role of a matchmaker); and London itself has a Pakistani-origin mayor. Scotland is now toying with the idea of secession from the United Kingdom.
Against this commotion, having Pakistan play against England in England is a welcome relief and a refreshing break from political toxicity, as evidenced by the win at Lord's. It puts Pakistan at center stage.
Already, Pakistan has squandered its mighty legacy in squash as well as in hockey, where it has won 4 World Cups, and now shamefully there would be an empty space at the Rio 2016 Olympics where its hockey team has failed to qualify.
That leaves cricket as the only game in town.