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A shot in the arm for Pakistan

Fans celebrating Pakistan's win in Islamabad
Jubilant Pakistani fans celebrate the win in Islamabad

Pakistan's victory in the Twenty20 cricket tournament has lifted the spirits of a beleaguered nation. Rishad Mahmood, sports editor of Pakistan's Dawn Newspaper, describes what the win means to the country and its cricket.

"We will defeat all evils now," cried a deliriously jubilant fan in Rawalpindi as Pakistan's cricketers lifted the glittering World Twenty20 trophy in front of a packed house at London's Lord's cricket grounds on Sunday.

The slogan said it all for the bereaved Pakistani nation.

Flags bearing the crescent and star made a major comeback as Younis Khan's men came to exemplify for the millions at home a dignified courage and an inspiring joie de vivre in the face of everything experienced by them in recent years.

Gloom

The improbable win seems to have lifted the pall of depressive gloom, mired in an endless stream of bad news and frustrating events. Hundreds of thousands of dancing fans took to the streets as if freed, at last, from their shameful association with violence.

And who could blame them for being so delirious, so loud, so pompous, so human on that shining Sunday night?

The geopolitical and cultural landscape of Pakistan has been irrevocably changed by the chain of horrific events over the past two years or so.

Pakistani team after the win
Younis Khan's team came into the tournament as underdogs

While in the past, the nation has experienced corrupt politicians, sustained the unthinkable fall of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), survived two major wars with their neighbours and braved the worst of earthquakes and floods, the people have been traumatised like never before by the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people by the Taliban.

No place has been safe, be it the mosques, the parks, homes, government buildings, public gatherings, malls. Many of the locals have lost friends and family while residents of small towns have been forced to flee their ancestral homes out of fear of death.

'Ineptitude'

To top it all, the ineptitude and powerlessness of an elected democratic government has removed the last shred of complacency.

In the face of growing extremism in the region, while Pakistan has been dubbed as a failed state, the Pakistanis have been accused of indulging in rabid nationalism by the foreign media which has been awash with references of 'Islamic barbarians'.

It is no surprise then that Western countries often advise their nationals against travelling to Pakistan while sports teams and delegations have either shunned or cancelled assignments which have gone some way to crippling the country's economy, besides tarnishing its image even further.

A grave situation indeed for any developing nation.

Sunday's victory at Lord's meant, perhaps, more than anything the nation has ever hoped for in its 63 years of existence, such has been the times.

Shahid Afridi after the final
Shahid Afridi was Pakistan's hero in the final

In a society where joy and celebration has become an irrelevance, where people avoid visiting landmarks for fear of bombings and shun celebrations due to security threats, where occasions of shared mirth are fast becoming non-existent, the victory mania was a sure sign that our geopolitical apathy has undergone a revolution - of the cricketing kind.

It was awesome to see the people of Pakistan celebrating in such a big way.

It was, indeed, the finest moment of the country's cricketing history. The win could not have been better timed, providing a pleasure like no other.

Relaxed and tolerant, they showed no signs of fear or hesitance, so synonymous with public gatherings today.

Miracle

They had a spring in their feet and a certainty to their jubilation that was once the hallmark of this nation.

As for the team, they pulled off a miracle.

For a cricketing outfit that was deprived of top level international cricket for more than 15 months and were reeling under the most harrowing incident of the game's history which saw the visiting Sri Lankan cricketers escaping death in Lahore during March, Younis Khan's men defied the laws of equilibrium to become champions.

In Younis' own admission, the Pakistani cricketers are invariably the poor starters and that's exactly how they began this campaign too, sinking without a whimper to an averagely-rated England in the opening clash.

Critics all but ruled them out of the competition and, with the ignominious loss of World Cup 2007 still fresh in their minds, the fans feared yet another first round exit for their team.

Pakistanis watching the final on TV
Pakistanis watched the game on Sunday night on TV

How they bounced back to thrash the hapless Kiwis, stun chokers South Africa and reduce the professionally sound Sri Lankans to a bunch of bewildered has-beens is now, of course, history.

The win has, without a doubt, touched a nerve with the fans.

They regrouped to emerge as the Pakistanis of good old days. On Sunday, the sane, the rationally thinking, happy people of Pakistan were back in business.

They were the clear winners.

The writer is the sports editor with Dawn newspaper in Pakistan



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