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In The Best Traditions Of Pakistan Cricket

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“Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.”

This last line of my previous post after Australia and Pakistan played a memorable match at the SuperSport Park, Centurion is just the right beginning that I needed for this post after New Zealand won the semi-final at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

Pakistan, as many cricket writers say, is a dangerous team when it starts gaining momentum. Momentum largely is a constant that helps every team more or less. The traditional process-driven approach of gaining momentum by getting the balance of the team right and keeping the winning habit going works for everyone, including Pakistan.

That apart, the Pakistan team is the most ‘receptive and volatile’ to a different kind of momentum, the mechanism of which cannot be described perfectly. That they have gained this momentum can be seen and felt plainly, but what has triggered it is at best a good guess. The big moments of Pakistan cricket have come through this backdoor that is not of their making; their credit is only being open and vulnerable to ‘an unspecific trigger’ that gives them a non-traditional momentum.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor Cricinfo, wrote a piece like a raconteur that lends credence to my drift in this piece. The piece was done on Pakistani cricket two days before the T20 final on Sunday.
“A triumph it already is, come what may Sunday. Astrophysics may be easier to comprehend than this situation, even if it is unlikely astrophysics has ever brought as much joy as this.

It has been an uneven, uplifting ride, in the best traditions of Pakistan. Just to know that they are still capable of it is relief in itself; indeed the worst fear over the last two years was that Pakistan had succumbed to the curse of bland mediocrity. But to know that they are still capable of doing what they did to South Africa in the same fortnight as what they allowed England to do to them; is to know that the soul of all Pakistan sides is alive and well.”

Waqar Younis, in an informal chat with Harsha Bhogle for a show broadcast a few years ago, smilingly said that he’ll never forgive Jadeja for what he did; talking about the 1996 World Cup. Waqar then added that Pakistan had their best team in the 1996 World Cup; in my view as well that was a very strong team. Not the all-time best but the best of the last 18 years or so.

When Osman talked about the amazing run of Pakistan after it had reached the T20 final in 2009 he was hesitant in bracketing it with the inaugural T20 World Cup or with the 1999 World Cup where also Pakistan had made it to the finals; instead he saw this in the same vein as the 1992 World Cup.

“The T20 run has been of a piece with, as nobody in Pakistan has forgotten, the 1992 World Cup, where, for no obvious reason, Pakistan suddenly transformed from a mohalla second XI into the world’s best. Everything came together to some great, central magnetic pull, as if it inevitably had to, in a wonderfully calculated way even though almost none of it was calculated,” Osman wrote.

Two days later the comparison had one more thing in common, as they would become the two World Cup victories for Pakistan; a World Cup in 1992 and a T20 World Cup in 2009.

This is a part of the complex soul of Pakistan cricket. Pakistan’s best teams or even the relatively-better ones did not manage to win a big tournament on the World stage. All the other sides were better prepared and well on course compared to the two teams that looked like a mohalla second XI.

The 1992 team and the T20 one in 2009 sensed a ‘tiger coming from the backdoor’ and rode it, though not fully in control but riding it nonetheless—and things started to fall in place. Imran got the right batting order in time and the T20 team started looking confident and dangerous. There were some individual heroes on both the occasions but the essential element was that the force was with all of them.

Younis and his team in the Champions Trophy were openly courting certainty. He declared that the Champions Trophy is Pakistan’s after the first match, leave aside predictions for his own team he even said he would want an India and Pakistan final. They played well but on their own steam. The backdoor probably gets locked in certainty—or who can be sure of even that. One thing though is quite likely as Werner Heisenberg explained in 1927; that the more certain you are about one parameter the greater is the inaccuracy in knowing the other. That’s why in the best traditions of Pakistan to be uncertain is not such a bad thing.

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The Glorious Uncertainties of Pakistan Cricket

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It would be near impossible to find a genuine cricket lover across the eight major cricketing nations who would not be shattered to see the game moving ahead without a substantial role of Pakistan. On the contrary there would be millions lamenting that tours to Pakistan have suffered for a few years for reasons that are beyond the control of either the administrators or the fans of the game.

In this season even indifferent observers would have turned serious followers had they been witnessing how Pakistan cricket navigated through a dark, treacherous period and emerged joyous and unscathed on the other side; in the process they also sparked unadulterated joy among millions of supporters back home. Forget home; they must be even lifting the spirits of the rival camps.

Younis Khan and his team have given the other Test playing nations enough reason to see the fact that it would be a collective loss for all cricketing nations if tours to Pakistan remain stalled. Tours though are not decided by cricket captains and emotional fans; more so as the aftershocks of Mumbai and Lahore would be felt acutely by the governing bodies of countries scheduled to tour Pakistan.

On their part though, Pakistani cricketers have done enough for the world to take notice. On Wednesday they gave another proof—if it was at all needed in the first place—on why the game of cricket is so much poorer without the incendiary brilliance that their team brings to this rather small mix.

It was not an ideal surface to bat on but it produced a match that single-handedly justified the Champions Trophy. The Aussies put Pakistan in after winning the toss and bowled 50 overs with intensity to restrict Pakistan to 205. The chase began like a typical Aussie hot pursuit, with boundaries raining. At 62 for 2 after 12 overs, the seasoned Ponting and Hussey took charge; Ponting extra cautious while Hussey free-flowing. The Aussie captain perished in the 32nd over—to a slog-sweep off Malik caught wide of square leg, courtesy a great effort by Umar Gul.

It was just a precursor to the period that I call the ‘Pakistan Factor’. This elusive and dangerous quality that makes a Pakistani team lethal is scientifically defined as the product of mass and velocity: commonly called momentum. And in its own peculiar way, this momentum does not run contrary to the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle*—one of the fundamental pillars of Quantum Mechanics named after the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who presented it in 1927. In simple cricketing terms it can be used to say that momentum can be observed but what triggers it remains elusive.*

When Pakistan began their World T20 campaign this year, they played England in the first game and lost by 48 runs. A match report said: ‘Pakistan was well short of their best, especially in the field where they dropped at least four catches and produced countless more sloppy pieces of groundwork. … maybe suffered from knowing they have a second chance against the Netherlands …but this defeat was so heavy that even a win in that game might not be enough.’

Pakistan won against Netherlands and then lost to Sri Lanka. They then defeated New Zealand emphatically, and something that can’t be measured accurately triggered what could be seen plainly: Pakistan had gained momentum. Pakistan qualified to the semis as the 4th team to take on the unbeaten South Africans.

Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor of Cricinfo, in a preview to the T20 semi-final called it first a clash of ethos, of philosophies and even of time, more than a semi-final. It was the art of cricket against the science of it, cricket’s future against its past.

South Africa had all bases covered. “The whole machinery is intimidating …the mission pre-programmed; with seven consecutive wins… they have also taken the inherent unpredictability of this format out of the equation. They are well-oiled, and their psychologist talks about 120 contests and of processes over outcomes. They win even warm-up matches and the dead games because every game counts. They are cricket’s future.

Pakistan are the past. They are wholly dysfunctional, but just about getting along, though unsure where they are going. They don’t control extras…. They are least bothered about erasing the flaws because any win will be in spite of them. They did hire a psychologist though, and you can only imagine what those sessions were like… There are permanent mutterings of serious rifts. They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a ‘Pakistan’: that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don’t plan or account for it.”

Osman hits the nail on the head when he says that it is not something that Pakistan plan for; meaning that it happens and also meaning that it is in harmony with my ‘not-so-scientific’ comparison with the revolutionary theory of the Quantum Physics genius Heisenberg.

Pakistan took on South Africa and despite scoring a gettable 149, Afridi turned the game on its head by taking Gibbs and De Villiers cheaply and almost back to back. Sri Lanka had been the more consistent team in the tournament; but in the final it was Pakistan that was more hungry.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting sensed the danger in the Champions Trophy group match today as his strike rate of 50 suggests; rarely does he score 32 runs in 64 balls. Asif was back in the 40th over after a dull first spell; Ajmal had sent Ferguson back a while ago. Then followed the madness, the brilliance, the call it what you like, the-what I-like-to-call as the Pakistan Factor.

Rana Naved bowled the 41st over and his fifth ball, an in-swinging dipping yorker, shattered Hussey’s off stump; it was as if lightning had struck. Hussey left after a fluent 64; 31 needed from 9 overs with 5 wickets left.

It was already crazy when the back-from-hell Asif made it absolutely maddening in the 42nd over; Hopes drove straight to mid-off and Younis pouched a low catch. Johnson survived a run-out scare but White had no such luck. The fifth ball was an Asif special: It landed on a good length outside the off and cut back sharply to pierce the bat pad gap and shatter the timber behind; an unbelieving pale White made his walk back. Twenty-three in 36 balls with 3 wickets in hand and Rana Naved bowled two maidens on the trot.

In between the maidens Johnson hit a four and was deceived the very next ball by an Ajmal beauty; a short and quick doosra that Johnson misread and it came back to crash his stumps. Australia had needed just 36 runs in the last 10 overs with six wickets in hand. Seven of those 10 overs yielded half of the runs at the cost of 4 Aussie wickets. It was sheer madness, it was pure magic, and it was quintessential Pakistan. It was something that would have made Werner Heisenberg—the 1932 Nobel Prize winner in Physics—smile.

Only Pakistan could have brought Australia to such a desperate situation in an otherwise one-sided contest. And only Australia could have survived a tsunami like that and yet manage to cross the line. If unpredictable is the word for Pakistan then the Aussies can best be summed up as unyielding. Lee and Hauritz saw Australia home in the last ball of the match.

Pakistan now moves ahead with the momentum that makes them so lethal by their side. It would be tempting to put your money on them but it would not be wise: Some things are best left uncertain.

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*Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states that it is not possible to simultaneously measure both the position and momentum of a particle with precision. Conversly, it also means that more the precision in measuring one of them the greater would be the inaccuracy in measuring the other. There are many ways to define and derive the principle. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of Quantum Theory.

The principle was at the core of dialogues between British physicist David Bohm and the 20th century ‘spiritual thinker’ J. Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was spotted and raised by The Theosophical Society: which he left saying what remains as his most famous one-liner, ‘Truth is a pathless land’. The dialogues are available in a 1985 published book titled The Ending Of Time. It is the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that prompted Albert Einstein’s famous comment, “God does not play dice.”

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