If there is a culture that defines you, if there is a culture that makes you think in a particular way and especially acts as a negative catalyst, you rise above it. It was a common theme in many Pakistani cricketers, be it Javed Miandad or Imran Khan. But Babar Azam took it a notch higher.
In Pakistani cricket of the past, either there was Lahore's cosmopolitan veneer or the complexities of the local Karachi ilk. It couldn't have been anything in between, and it somehow created an adverse effect in the way the country’s cricket was viewed. But when Babar Azam drove Trent Boult for an effortless four in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, there was no disagreement on how good that was. Both Lahore and Karachi rose up to applaud and it was, in fact, 100% original. It was the salute of the country, which had been waiting for its next genius batting talent that could rival its neighbour.
Somehow, Azam makes you do that. He does that with the force of his own will, he does that to tell you he is not going to be a fading promise like his cousins, he does that to hold aloft the country’s ambitions and growth. Azam might not be a Virat Kohli yet every time a Pakistani comes up with the comparison, there is some truth to it. An effortless Kohli drive might be the best thing to watch on a boring day of Test cricket, but then a Pakistani fan might argue the same for their very own superstar and there is hardly a chance you can refute that with convincing logic. Because it is a truth that flutters through the glass as the world is ready to put it down.
When Azam replaced Sarfraz Ahmed as the limited-overs skipper, it was easy to believe that his game would see an adverse effect. The added pressure of becoming a Pakistani captain, while answering countless baseless questions in the numerous press conferences, had bogged players down to an extent that they dreaded waking up and getting ready for the next game. Sarfraz might not publicly acknowledge this, but as one of the most successful captains in the last few decades, he had seen the highs and lows that only a Pakistani captain sees and it wouldn’t have been easy handling them. It might have a crossing effect on Babar in the future, then why is Pakistan so ecstatic? Was Alastair Cook’s tenure for England so much of a distant memory?
But there is a counter-argument to it too. Ever since Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, and Steve Smith have taken over the leadership of their respective countries, their game has been positively enriched. Joe Root can’t claim the same for him but it is okay because he has only degraded from the high standard he had achieved for himself under Cook. Babar’s future as a successful captain will as much depend on his stoicism as the peripheral things that normally control Pakistan cricket but he has shown the early glimpse as skipper of Karachi Kings in the latest edition of the PSL. So there is at least hope and that hope is the basement of why Pakistan feels they have a jewel that will save them.
For a country that has long been locked with the idea of mercuriality - a tendency of unpredictability - it is a welcome narrative. You never write off Pakistan in your senses and that perhaps has given the sport some of its best stories. Be it the 1992 World Cup or ludicrously unbelievable 2017 Champions Trophy. But do you know one thing? Pakistanis never really liked it. They don’t like coming back from the dead and surprise everybody. Rather, they want to show that they can be a challenger at every juncture like Australia, they too want to reach the knockouts every time like India, they don’t like being labelled as underdogs like New Zealand and they want to be favourites as South Africa have always been.
They now believe Babar will make them the force they deserve to be. They also see Babar as the disruptions to the channel that had given them promise but faltered away. The horrors of Sohaib Maqsood, Ahmed Shahzad, Umar Akmal, and Sharjeel Khan still haunt them but Babar will have none of it. He will rise above it and create a team in his own ideology the way Stephen Fleming did for New Zealand, MS Dhoni for India, and more recently, Eoin Morgan for England. It is the endgame that we are talking about and can you really blame Pakistani fans for feeling that way?
It is a hope that has now kept them hooked. And for the sake of better cricketing stories, we can only hope that it pays off and Babar takes them on a plane of success.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi