Little moments

Shahid Afridi is upset that his team’s fifteen minutes of fame has been downsized to fifteen seconds.

“I fail to understand why the next World Cup will be played in nine months time,” Afridi told reporters on arrival in Karachi. “If it was being organised after two years, people would have remembered Pakistan’s victory and it would have been more enjoyable.”

PostScript: A touch under the weather, hence heading home. See you guys tomorrow

Return of the unpredictables

Prahlad Rao [on Twitter here] pointed me at this post by Great Bong, on Pakistan’s World Cup win. An edited sampling of the opening:

Whether it be in claiming in their history books that they whipped the asses of India in all the wars that they fought against us ( including 1971 and Kargil) or whether it be in not giving up a match even when logic dictates otherwise, there is one thing that has characterized Pakistan—-their stubborn refusal to accept defeat.

….

With this victory, I hope, that the old Pakistan is back once again—-temperamental, nasty, supremely talented, the guys I grew up hating, loving and feeling jealous of.

Because with the colorless Kiwis and South Africans around and Australia looking a pale shadow of its old self, the cricket world needs some drama, some brilliance. The kind that only the men in green can provide.

Unlike most of the “politically correct” people in the press, I am not going to say that Pakistan deserved the trophy due to  a cosmic scheme of fairness, a kind of compensation by fate for how their country has been at the receiving end of terrorism for the past few years and how its cricketing infrastructure has been ruined as a result. Frankly, terror is like perfume. One cannot spread it around without getting a few drops on oneself. So Pakistan’s present travails in the political sense are totally due to its policies and I have no desire to link their murderous politics with the fortunes of the cricket team. In any case, Pakistan is being well-rewarded for their bogus war on/of terror by a tripling of US aid and so no tears for them there.

Tangentially, on the topic of US aid for Pakistan — the $7.5 billion package is currently poised to hit the floor of the House and Senate for voting — this also happened yesterday:

An airstrike believed to have been carried out by a United States drone killed at least 60 people at a funeral for a Taliban fighter in South Waziristan on Tuesday, residents of the area and local news reports said.

Details of the attack, which occurred in Makeen, remained unclear, but the reported death toll was exceptionally high. If the reports are indeed accurate and if the attack was carried out by a drone, the strike could be the deadliest since the United States began using the aircraft to fire remotely guided missiles at members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The United States carried out 22 previous drone strikes this year, as the Obama administration has intensified a policy inherited from the Bush administration.

Related, here’s C Uday Bhaskar on Pakistan’s ‘Yes We Can’ moment [Link courtesy Varun Bubber on Twitter].

It is instructive that among the many bans imposed by the Taliban in their inflexible and cheerless interpretation of the ‘true’ Islamic way of life, sports were taboo – and cricket in particular.

Hence the much reviled attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and one may conjecture that the Taliban lost a large swathe of support when they carried out this dastardly attack.

During a visit to Lahore a day after the attack, I was struck by the manner in which the local people gave vent to their deep anguish at what was seen as a double transgression of the most heinous nature.

First it was a visitor who had been targeted – the ‘mehman’ – who even by the Taliban code was to be protected; and second – ‘khuda kay liye’ – for Allah’s sake – they were cricketers – the most venerated public figures in all of South Asia.

Thus the Lord’s victory is a cock-a-snook at this Taliban diktat and even Peshawar — site of the Pearl Continental Hotel attack — was celebrating Shahid Afridi’s exploits with bat and ball.

And since we are on the subject of the Taliban, cricket and such, a recent read from the New York Times that is worth your time.

Joy at bay

Continuing the theme of this post from earlier today, check this out:

The victorious Pakistan team arrived in Lahore in the early hours of Tuesday amid security so tight that hundreds of fans who had gathered at the airport failed to catch a glimpse of them. The champions of the ICC World Twenty20 in England were whisked away to another terminal, leaving the fans disappointed.

….

The fans couldn’t hide their disappointment, considering that they had gathered at the terminal long before the 3.30am arrival. Earlier, thousands took to the streets across the country and celebrated Pakistan’s eight-wicket win against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on Sunday.

“Not only me, every one present here is hurt,” Zeeshan Qaiser, a fan, told AP. “We just wanted to have a glimpse of them, we are tired from shouting slogans in praise of them and now they didn’t show up.”

Nothing illustrates the poignant state of Pakistan cricket as much as this, that the team returns triumphant, having recorded its first win at a world-level competition in 17 years and only the second win of its history, and the situation is so bad the heroes of the win can’t be feted by their fans.

If Pakistan’s cricketers at the height of their glory are so unsafe, what chance then for touring sides?

I’m not arguing for Pakistan cricket’s continued isolation — host the team on away tours and/or even allow Pakistan to use international stadia as neutral venues, by all means. However, when the likes of Younus Khan ask, in the flush of victory, that teams tour Pakistan so the young there can continue to watch and be inspired, he asks for the impossible.

Freeze frames

In an era of crowded schedules and uncompetitive blue-riband events, here was an eye-opener – two weeks of the best fun imaginable, served up in thrillingly digestible portions, in front of packed crowds and rapt TV audiences. Soberingly, if this was the 50-over World Cup, the public would have long since tuned out, and we’d still have five weeks and 20 matches to go.

Andrew Miller makes a good point: the T20 World Cup was way better conceived and organized than its 50-over sibling. Elsewhere, Cricinfo does its usual good job of distilling the stats of the tournament; Ananth Narayanan delves even deeper into the numbers, and Nishi Narayanan rounds up the memorable moments.

Granting the thrills the tournament brought, I found just one moment worthy of post-mortem mention; the one moment in this tournament that will enter cricket lore. This one.

What is your pick?

A time to heal

Few None write of Pakistan cricket with the passionate empathy that powers every word of Osman Samiuddin’s prose. And predictably, his post-win writing has been top-notch, managing deftly to celebrate while putting the win against the larger backdrop of all that is happening in that country.

12 militants were killed and seven others sustained injuries when gunship helicopters and fighter planes targeted their suspected hideouts in different areas of South Waziristan Agency, while 27 militants died in the military operation in Bajaur Agency on June 21, The News reported.
Tribal sources said Security Forces (SFs) continued shelling Taliban hideouts in the Makeen, Kaniguram, Badar and Mula Khan Serai areas of South Waziristan, destroying four compounds of the militants. SFs claimed that 12 militants were killed and seven others injured in shelling by gunship helicopters and fighter planes. Another main compound of the militants in Mula Khan Serai was reportedly destroyed while a madrassa (seminary) was also targeted by the gunship helicopters.
An AP report from Islamabad stated that military jets and artillery targeted suspected Taliban hideouts in Bajaur Agency, killing 27 militants.

Over the past 24 hours, helicopter gunships and fighter planes have bombarded suspected terrorist hideouts in South Waziristan. Reports speak of continued shelling of Taliban hideouts in the Makeen, Kaniguram, Badar and Mula Khan Serai areas of South Waziristan.

Four buildings/compounds known to house militants have been reported destroyed; 12 militants are believed dead and seven injured.  Another militant compound in Mula Khan Serai has been claimed to be destroyed, and reports also speak of a gunship attack on a madrassa in the region where terrorists are believed to have been hiding out.

Elsewhere, official sources have spoken of an operation involving artillery, with fighter planes providing air cover, against Taliban hideouts in Bajaur Agency, with 27 militants reported killed.

Helicopter gunships. Fighter planes. Heavy artillery. These are words that resonate of war, not a civilian peace-keeping operation. And war is what is happening in Pakistan — a war between those who seek to create chaos as the first step towards imposing their own fundamentalist ideology and a government that, having had its toes badly burnt in games of footsie with the terrorists, is finally realizing that it needs to quell the Frankenstein it had created.

It is, as Osman points out, unlikely that a cricket win — even one of such magnitude — will change all that. Or that international countries will heed Younus Khan’s passionate plea and begin touring again.

Pakistan’s win will do little in literal terms for the war on terror; if we’re lucky the spirits will be emboldened further. Countries are still unlikely to visit Pakistan for international cricket because that is not really part of this.

But that is not the point. This is:

Sea View was bouncing last night. Karachi’s beach is never lost for humanity but last night it was particularly overrun. Mostly they were young men, from all over the city, dancing with the great abandon of those who cannot but do not care anyway. At regular distances, cars would have to stop, allow the men to dance all around, occupants being invited to dance, or drive on through under a flag. Mostly it was a Pakistan flag, but those of political parties were not absent. Those who didn’t dance on the streets did so from the windows of their cars, bopping to horns and stereos. Save for rallies welcoming back exiled leaders I have never seen such scenes in Karachi.

….

But the win and the run have brought, for however long, respite from war, death, bombs and load-shedding (power cuts). People have laughed and smiled since Pakistan’s run began, with that outstanding Afridi catch and Umar Gul spell. Last night they laughed and smiled and danced and jigged and blew their horns and waved their flags and ate their mithai (sweets) and set off their firecrackers more than they have for a long time. That is as powerful a gift as can be given to any nation.

Elsewhere, Osman teams up wbith Ramiz Raja in an audio discussion on how the win emphasizes that Pakistan still matters in world cricket. And that is the bonus the win brings. In recent times — post 26/11, post 3/3 — any discussion of Pakistan and cricket in the same sentence has centered on how dangerous the place is, how rapid its slide into anarchy, and how therefore no cricket can be considered in/with that country.

What the win does is break that hyphenation, create an atmosphere where the international cricket community says yes, Pakistan is dangerous, but its cricket team is electric, they fill stadiums that otherwise remain empty, and therefore we must have them tour us, even open up our stadiums to them as homes away from their home.

India alone is unlikely to do any of that just yet — not for lack of sympathy towards Pakistan cricket [or, since it is the BCCI we are talking about, not for lack of appreciation of the enormous earning potential of hosting a Pakistan touring party for Tests/ODIs and a T20 match up] but because the political establishment will not permit any such tour until Islamabad stops blowing hot and cold and lukewarm again on the subject of 26/11.

A matter of taste

So how does it feel to have gone through a world level tournament that had lots of strategy but no strategy breaks? A tournament that saw over 130 sixes but not a single DLF-maximum? A tournament brought to you by commentators [admittedly of varying shades of quality], not carnival barkers?

Ask not for whom the fireworks go off...

Ask not for whom the fireworks go off...

Of the many things about the IPL that got my goat, the final straw came after the final. Ravi Shastri, winner by a mile of the title of barker-in-chief, was doing the presentation, and he kicked off with an exhaustive listing of the sponsors. That was followed up by an even more exhausting — literally — list of the planeload of IPL, BCCI and ICC honchos who thronged the makeshift dais for the presentation.

And then came the moment to ask the runners up and the winners to come up on stage and get their medals. Players came, players went — and not a single one of them was named; Shastri switched off and stood there while the players in all their anonymity trooped on stage, and off again.

Would it have been too much to ask the presenter to name each player as he came up on stage — as Nasser Hussain did so punctiliously at the end of yesterday’s final?

But then, the World Cup is about the players; the IPL is about everything but.

While on that, from SportsMag India, this piece on why the DLF-ers and such ended up pissing off the audience big time.

The IPL and its Sponsors will soon realize that effective brand communications are those that convey meaningful messages to an audience’s event experience. Those communications that divert the attention of the audience from the experience that they are trying to have, or intrude, onto an audience’s event experience are less likely to be viewed as being effective and more likely to be viewed as being merely a necessary evil. For cricketing audiences, a shot that clears the boundary is a six and will remain a six. A wicket obtained by a bowler is just that- a wicket! By trying to term a six as a “DLF Maximum”, or a wicket as a “Citi Moment of Success”, it appears that DLF and Citi have devised sponsorship communications which seek to alter time-tested fundamentals of the game of cricket, or which have the effect of intruding onto an audience’s event experience.

I do believe that if the audiences don’t like a product, the same would be reflected in lower television rating points and lower in-stadia audiences for the event. Furthermore, there would inevitably be a dilution in the brand value of organizations associated with the product. This, in turn, will force the hand of both the IPL and its Sponsors in various ways. Consequently, the participants in the IPL matrix i.e. the IPL, the broadcaster, and its Sponsors may re-negotiate their agreements with each other, so as to specify stricter quality control mechanisms on all aspects of the production of the event, including the manner in which brand communications are tailored. Perhaps, IPL-III may witness the beginning of more mature brand communications from the participants in the IPL matrix, whether by choice or by compulsion.

Here incidentally is the presentation ceremony, notable also for the comments of the two captains:

Part 1:

Part 2: