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Tornado Touchdown

Kamran Wasti

I ate my words for lunch on Saturday.

Many years ago, I slowly learned to appreciate good cricket. Of course while I would want Pakistan to win, learning to define that fine line between hope and expectation was the painful learning process. Here, for all practical purposes, I expected South Africa to win. The only cricketing means for this Pakistani team to defeat South Africa was to make the new ball count or so I thought. But then again, when these Pakistanis fall into one of those grooves, cricketing logic fails.

I remember a match against Sharjah in 1997 – Pakistanis lose 7 for 50 against Zimbabwe of all sides and limp to 150. Zimbabwe lose wickets, the openers to Waqar and then a few more but even with five down for 70 odd, Zimbabwe are still inching towards their target. My friend, the proverbial eternal die-hard fan keeps asking me with every falling wicket if I sense a win, but I say no. And then Mushtaq Ahmad, bowling round the wicket, pitched one way outside Andy Flower’s off-stump. The ball dipped, spat like a cobra leaving that lovely player of spin, Andy Flower, hopping as if in a trance, and hit the top of leg stump behind his back. Those who saw it could have advised Mushtaq to charge Shane Warne for plagiarism when he bowled Strauss. The whole Pakistani contingent exploded. That was the trigger – it was a gradual collapse, nothing compared to those trademark collapses induced by the Pakistanis but Flower’s dismissal, a spectacular one by any standards, initiated those wild roars laden with some of the most unprintable Punjabi verbosity that lets any experienced follower of Pakistani cricket know that moment has arrived. More often than not, it is triggered by a spectacular dismissal. Like Rahul Dravid’s at Chennai in 1999. Like Alan Lamb’s in the final of the 1992 World Cup. Like Vishwanath’s at Karachi a decade before. Like Kapil Dev and Navjot Sidhu helplessly becoming two of the early victims of the Waqar Younis Yorker at Sharjah in 1990 in what was otherwise a war of attrition.

At times, it is triggered by batsmen. Like a 20-year-old Wasim Akram exploding at Faisalabad to his a 50 which ultimately led to a spectacular Pakistani win over the West Indies. Mostly it is spectacular. Occasionally, it is quietly dominant. Like Imran calmly depositing Richard Illingworth into the Members’ Stand at the MCG in 1992 which took Pakistan’s run rate beyond three an over after which the floodgates opened.

Here, that spectacular act was brought about not by a bowler but fittingly by Sarfraz Ahmad, supposedly there as a specialist wicketkeeper but confined to sidelines – nobody in the side, not even Sarfraz himself perhaps, seemed to have the necessary confidence in a batting lineup that was failing against New Zealand’s side teams. It is unlikely that Umar Akmal’s efforts to uphold his brother’s butter-fingered legacy inspired Sarfraz’s return. This team is unlikely to drop Umar Akmal hoping for that one in a million cameo which seemingly needs a million innings anyway to happen. Nasir Jamshed’s supply chain of failures was indeed surplus to the needs. However,even then it is unlikely Sarfraz, essentially a plucky character in the Moin Khan mold but certainly not very skillful with the gloves, would have made it to the squad had Haris Sohail not been injured. In short, his return depended on the kind of permutations and combinations that his team usually relies on to get through the rounds in important tournaments.

And well, that spectacular act of Sarfraz, which got lost in this discussion of possibilities was not that wonderful cameo at the top. Instead, it was a very good grab that flew off the edge of Hashim Amla, who, like Viv Richards in the 1983 World Cup Final, was only dealing in boundaries. The greatest batsman then needed a sparkling sprint from Kapil Dev to be sent back. Arguably the greatest batsman playing today needed a sparkling grab from Sarfraz, one of a record six, for his dismissal. The way Rahat Ali’s teammates responded to his violent triumphant snarl should have sent shivers down the spines of the South Africans. The tornado had made its touchdown. Not even the brilliance of AB de Villiers was going to survive that.

By that time, I was sure about the menu for my lunch.

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