The roads are deserted as 170 million people eagerly watch the final moments of the 40th match of the Cricket World Cup 2011 between Pakistan and Australia. Pakistani right-handed batsman, Abdul Razzaq, swings his bat with a flourish and finishes the match with a Four to Australian bowler, J.J. Krejza's ball. Team Pakistan has won the match by 4 wickets from it's most formidable opponent!
As the whole country rejoices after the big win from Australia, I look around me and wonder at the nonchalance of some people who claim it to be 'just a game' and 'nothing to be excited about'. Agreed, it is just a game. Not so for the Pakistanis, however. For us it is far more than that.
A country torn apart by corruption, terrorism and clashing beliefs, the Pakistan of today has lost much of its former glory (the little it had, that is). Our people are crushed beneath the weight of our government's debt and inflation; struggling daily to make ends meet. However, be it in the remote areas up North of the country or the heart of the capital city, there is one thing that holds Pakistanis together - Cricket! This 'mere game' has managed to achieve that feat which people in intellectual circles and parliamentary sessions only debate about. How can we negate an INSTITUTION that sends an entire nation's pulse racing?!
Since the Sri Lankan team was attacked in Lahore during it's tour of Pakistan in 2009, no international cricket match has been played in Pakistan. Because of this 'security problem', even though the World Cup 2011 is being hosted by South Asia, none of the matches will be played in Pakistan, the country with the largest and most passionate fan following. One only has to go out on the streets on a day when Pakistan is playing for proof of our fixation with cricket. If people aren't following the match on TV screens while going around their daily business, they have their ears glued to the radio to catch the live commentary, lest they miss any crucial moment.
I lost my interest in cricket soon after our team lost the '96 World Cup, dejected by our team's performance and disgusted by the endless cases of 'match fixing'. This year, however, it's different. Even though the 'spot-fixing scandal' last year came as a rude shock to the nation, my pulse still races with the rest of my countrymen during every Pakistan match in this World Cup. Every time I pray for my team it is accompanied by the plea, "it's the only thing my people have left, don't take it away from them".
This also goes out as an appeal to the Pakistan cricket team. Don't let your people down. Don't take away from them one of the few things they have left to be proud of. Even if you don't win, play with dignity.
Coming from someone who is not even a die-hard cricket fan. This is not just a game! For my nation, it's a ray of hope.