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How long can you ignore Pakistan?
After making news for all the wrong reasons, Pakistan cricket seems back on track after their sensational 3-0 rout of World No. 1 England in their adopted home. Renewing ties with India appears the best way forward.
For critics and pessimists, who condemn Pakistan cricket to be a helpless dichotomy of talent and chaos, the just-concluded Test series in Dubai was a reminder that cricket is still not lost in a country ravaged by violence, dwindling fortunes and perennial uncertainty surrounding the sport that has continued to tantalise their senses.
Travelling like a bunch of nomads, the Pakistan cricket team, on the road ever since the 2009 terror attack on the visiting Sri Lankan side, created history by beating England 3-0, their first-ever clean sweep over the reigning No. 1 Test side in the world. Pakistan won the first Test by 10 wickets in Dubai, the second in Abu Dhabi by 72 runs and the 71-run victory in the third, again in Dubai, completed a Brown Wash, the first in 58 years between the two nations.
Upon close inspection, one recurring idea seems to weave a common thread through this sensational achievement. Pakistan cricket, despite its numerous and complex issues, will continue to throw up surprises and demand attention for the pure skill and talent that it incessantly throws up.
Ask Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's captain, and he would say, "We showed the world again that we are a power in the cricketing world. Now, it's time to give importance to the Pakistan team again. "
Pakistan has always emerged from various problems surrounding its cricket team. Their players were dropped from the respective teams in the 2009 edition of the IPL following strained diplomatic relations between the two countries after the Mumbai terror attacks. One of them, Sohail Tanvir, was the star of the inaugural IPL. Playing for Rajasthan Royals, he was adjudged the bowler of the tournament.
Despite that, Pakistan have repeatedly shown they are no less a force in Twenty20s. The snub spawned a new hunger to strike back on the cricket field and they went on to win the 2009 World T20 in England to complete one of the most romantic chapters in sport that year. That snub turned into a full-fledged humiliation the following year as their players, despite being available for the auctions, weren't bid for by any of the eight franchisees, following political pressure from Indian right-wing groups and threats of disruption to the tournament.
The following year plunged the country's cricket into its darkest moment as the spot-fixing scandal resulted in bans on the then skipper Salman Butt, pacer Mohammad Asif and talented fast bowler Mohammad Aamer. The entire country went into mourning as if it was the death of cricket with the government too getting involved to ensure the guilty are punished. Bouts of in-fighting, one-upmanship amongst senior players, coach and the iron hand of the then Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Ijaz Butt meant a period of disharmony and unhappiness.
But despite the uneasiness, Pakistan sailed into the semis of the 2011 World Cup against India for a shot at the title. They lost by 29 runs, but the boys got a hero's welcome at home. "That was a big ask for a team, you can say we just came out of such problems and I think the way the team is progressing, it's a wonderful thing, " Misbah, who took over as skipper in 2010, observed. Significant as it may seem, Pakistan since then have won nine of their 15 Tests, lost one and drawn five. "Everybody has to look out for Pakistan cricket because everyone was just ignoring us. A lot of things were said about our team. After this series victory (3-0 win over England), our performance should be recognised and Pakistan cricket should be recognised, " he added.
Former Pakistan skipper Javed Miandad credits Misbah's captaincy for cricket's turnaround in the country. "Misbah has done a wonderful job to keep the team together. After what happened in England it is important the team doesn't get into another inglorious episode and the skipper has maintained the discipline and led by example, " he says.
Pakistan's ability to surprise - even selfdestruct - remains. In the third Test, they became the first team in 100 years to be dismissed for less than 100 runs - they scored 99 - in the first innings and yet fight back to win. "This is possible only when the hunger is there to win. Each member of this team is a fighter in himself. If one batsman fails, the other will chip in, if one bowler goes for runs, the others will cover him with tidy spells. But for that to happen, the skipper has to be sharp and quick-thinking. Misbah has been on the ball always, " points out Miandad.
Despite Pakistan's overwhelming victory, Miandad has one wish for Misbah's boys. "I am waiting for a bi-lateral series between India and Pakistan. This is the best time for both the countries to meet. I am not saying this Pakistan team is superior, but certainly they can match any side man-for-man.
"Secondly, our ordeal of hosting matches abroad should end. Other teams should start touring Pakistan. No country is safe today. When the Pakistan government has agreed to offer its best security to any touring party, other nations shouldn't worry about playing here, " says Miandad.
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf feels that the 3-0 thrashing of England will send a strong message to other countries. "I never doubted the ability of the Pakistan cricket team. The victory is a clear message to all-cricket-playing nations that we have the capability to take on any cricket team in the world, " he said.
Pakistan have taken some steady steps towards improvement. Their decimation of England, who mauled India in the Test series last summer, points towards a possible chasm between the two cricketing giants from the subcontinent. Only time can tell if it's a renaissance of the world's most controversial yet talented cricket team.
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