Pakistani cricket – the soap opera of madness
April 7, 2012 2 Comments
Where enthralling story lines go, Pakistani cricket is the stuff elaborate and sometimes-horrifying dreams are made off. Having devoured more than my fair share of mediocre television productions over the years, I feel Pakistan cricket comfortably outstrips these stories in the richness of its characters, the intrigue of its story lines and the sheer surprises it throws the way of its spectators.
It is from its characters that Pakistan cricket derives many of its glorious storylines. There is Javed Miandad, the bitchy and part senile grandmother, whining persistently in the background. There is Intikhab Alam, the all-powerful grandfather who still has a say in all the decisions in the family. There is Shoaib Malik, the devious and cunning daughter-in-law, forever jostling for power with the other women in the family. There is Sarfraz Nawaz and Amir Sohail, the next-door gossipers. There is Rashid Latif, the do-gooder of the family. There is Shoaib Akhtar, the spoilt brat who rebels against the family. No great story is complete without an idiot. Ijaz Butt fulfilled this role with distinction for a number of dark years for Pakistan cricket. The list goes on endlessly, each character bringing a unique flavor to the storyline.
The sub plots of Pakistan cricket provide entertainment and intrigue in equal measure. Imagine for a second, how the oath taking ceremony that led to the sacking of Younis Khan must have played out. 5 of our main characters stand in a circle. Mohommad Yousaf walks into the darkened room, beard flowing in the wind, a book grasped firmly in his right hand. The devious daughter-in-law, Shoaib Malik steps forward boldly and puts her hands on the book. Emboldened by Malik’s action, the other players in the room follow suit. Together they swear in passionate overtones, ” We will not play under Younis Khan and will do everything in our power to destroy him”. Death and illness is wished on anyone who goes against the oath.
Lest the viewer starts getting bored, the story provides its first action sequences to liven up the mood. A Sri Lankan team visits Pakistan to play a cricket series. On the field Samaraweera is smashing the Pakistani bowlers all over the place. Cricket however is too trivial a matter to dominate Pakistan cricket. Enter, the villains.
True to its rich storyline, Pakistan cricket does not boast just any standard villain. The enemy instead is a group of disgruntled individuals reportedly affiliated with the Taliban. One fine day, as the Sri Lankan team is riding a bus to the cricket ground, our villains appear on their motorcycles, armed with AK47 rifles, grenades and rocket grenade launchers. The security members charged with protecting the Sri Lankan team are either killed or flee the spot, leaving the Sri Lankan players at the mercy of the attackers. After firing at the bus, the villains mount their motorcycles and ride back confidently into the streets of Lahore. The guests are predictably traumatized. They raise a huge ruckus, especially the Englishman Chris Broad, who bemoans the pitiful lack of security.
The story is getting too intense, one feels. It is an appropriate time for the idiot in the story to make an appearance. Enter, Ijaz Butt. Chris Broad is lying, he says. Forget about the fact that two of the Sri Lankan players ended up with shrapnel in their bodies and an umpire took a bullet in the back. Ijaz Butt says the security obviously worked because nobody died. The senile grandmother, Javed Miandad throws her weight behind Ijaz Butt and suggests that the ICC should put a life ban on Chris Broad for his comments on the terrorist attacks. It is a testament to the quality of the script of Pakistan cricket, that the dialogues that are worthy of this historic occasion.
The spoilt brat of Pakistani cricket, Shoaib Akhtar provides the story with some much-needed comic relief. True to his rebellious, playboy nature Akhtar has been indulging with a plethora of women. No need to get startled, it is after all the story of every flamboyant sportsman. The Pakistani cricketer however decides to take things to an impressive new level. He contracts a horrible sexual disease and is benched from the Pakistani team. The media meanwhile, is awash with rumors of Shoaib Akhtar’s poor fitness and injury prone body. The Pakistan cricket board however, is desperate to get the truth off its chest. It releases a statement on the following day, explaining Akhtar’s absence from the team.
“The medical board has reported that Shoaib Akhtar was suffering from genital viral warts and the wound needs further care and treatment for another 10 days.”
Shoaib provides further entertainment. One day after net practice, Shahid Afridi is telling Shoaib Akhtar how he needs to improve his attitude towards the youngsters in the Pakistan team. Mohammad Asif happens to walk out of the shower at that very instant. Afridi asks him what he thinks of Akhtar. Asif has a twinkle in his eye. He merely smiles at Akhtar. Akhtar gets angry and picks up the bat that is lying nearby, conveniently. He strikes Asif on the leg. Like a true hero, Afridi steps in front of Akhtar and protects the young protégé from further harm. Asif meanwhile, is writhing in pain. Predictably, Akhtar is banished from the Pakistani cricket family. When he returns home, he calls an angry press conference blaming Shahid Afridi for inciting him by saying derogatory things about his family.
Grandfather Intikhab Alam takes the cake for his explanation about Shoaib Akhtar’s consistently erratic behavior.
“He drinks alcohol and has an active sex life”, says Intikhab. A most worthy explanation, indeed.
Shahid Afridi often makes cameo appearances in the headlines of Pakistan cricket. This one particular scene transpires during the final ODI of a disastrous tour of Australia. As Pakistan captain, Afridi feels that it is his responsibility to makes things happen on the field. Instead of his spinning fingers, he decides to unleash his teeth on the game and takes a bite at the ball. After the match, a curious journalist asks Afridi what on earth he was trying to do.
“I was trying to smell the ball”, he replies. ” Just to see how it was feeling”. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
Before he was eventually banned from cricket, Mohammad Asif was busy adding some rich storylines to Pakistan cricket. Let us hark back to 2006, the year of Asif’s first major foray into the craziness that is Pakistan cricket. Asif decides that his recent success on the cricket field is not exciting enough for him. He starts to take performance-enhancing drugs. The Pakistan cricket board bans him for a year. In truly Pakistani fashion, his punishment is overturned and he returns to the team. An emboldened Asif travels to the Indian Premier League where he continues his experimentation with drugs. On his way back to Pakistan, he stops over at the Dubai airport. The authorities catch him with hash in his wallet. He is forced to spend 20 days in a prison in Dubai. After much embarrassment, the Pakistani government interferes. The fast bowler is released from prison and banned from cricket for a year. The story however, does not end here.
Upon his return to cricket, Asif resumes his excellence on the field. Drugs are a thing of the past, it seems. Asif however, has found a new hobby. He starts to accept money from bookies in exchange for underperforming on the cricket field. Talk about living on the edge! As news of his latest indiscretion breaks out, Pakistan cricket throws out its latest twist. Veena Malik steps into the picture. She insists that she has known all along about Asif’s match fixing ventures and is willing to deliver all the evidence she has to ICC about her ex-flame. It really is the stuff great soap operas are made off.
Even in moments of sadness, the story of Pakistani cricket has confounded its viewers and transgressed into moments of total insanity. In the 2007 world cup, the team falls to a most humiliating defeat to Ireland and is unceremoniously dumped from the world cup. Before the spectators have barely had time to digest this defeat, the Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer is found dead in his room on the very next day. If this were the story of any other cricket team, its players would be showered with sympathy. But this is Pakistan cricket. It has no time for sentimental moments. The plot takes a most dangerous and unpredictable turn as a criminal investigation is opened into the death of Woolmer and some of the players are considered as possible accomplices his murder. Champagne bottles are checked for poison and the players’ rooms are ransacked for any evidence linking them to the murder. Due to a lack of evidence, the police eventually settle on suicide as a distinct possibility. The next-door gossiper Sarfraz Nawaz however is having none of it. He is sure that Woolmer was killed as part of an elaborate match fixing conspiracy. When asked if he has any evidence of match fixing, Sarfraz says that he is an expert at human psychology and bases his evidence on the body language of the players in the game.
It has been a roller coaster experience, being privy to the insanity that is Pakistan cricket. In recent times, Pakistan cricket has been trying desperately to deprive us off these glorious storylines. It has in fact been months since the media revealed its customary juicy anecdotes about the Pakistani team. It is, but the lull before the storm. Even today us Pakistani fans rest assured, that for every Misbah-ul-Haq who comes to the team espousing his sensible brand of thinking, a new Pakistani cricketer is on the verge of making headlines, adding his own unique brand of lunacy to this never ending soap opera of madness.