Pakistan’s national cricket team—despite its loss to Australia in the Semi-Final—has out-performed everyone’s expectations in the T20 World Cup. This young team, with its unjaded captain, Babar Azam, conquered their own fears and the unspoken apprehensions attached with Pakistan’s cricketing history, to show the world that Pakistan is still a force to reckon with on the cricket field.

Pakistan has performed better in some of the past tournaments—even won the T20 World Cup in 2009. But this team, in this tournament, has represented something special: hope, in the face of international isolation and intrigue.

Just in the days leading up to the T20 World Cup, Pakistan was shunned by the English and New Zealand cricket boards. Prompted by a malicious Indian agenda, the New Zealand team pulled out of their tour, just minutes before the first ball was to be bowled.

At the heels of this unwarranted turn of events, England also called its tour of Pakistan. And just like that, the hope of international cricket returning to Pakistan was snuffed out by a fake email, generated from an Indian source. And Pakistan stood alone, and isolated, as a joke in the cricketing world.

This sad turn of events did not happen overnight. Over the past two decades, a proud Pakistani cricket history (spanning a legacy of legends) has been viewed through the lens of a religiously militant culture.

What was at first just an ideological threat (enough to dissuade teams like Australia from visiting Pakistan), became a tangible nightmare one Tuesday morning in 2009, during Sri Lanka’s tour of Pakistan. And in its shadow, an entire generation of young cricket fanatics have been deprived of the exhilaration of sitting in Fazal Mahmood Enclosure.

In the years that followed, a virtual cricketing apartheid was imposed against this beautiful sport being played on our soil. And the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the government, and the nation had no coherent response to the international boycott; except, of course, to play our home-series in UAE.

During this time, Pakistan’s arch-rival, India, saw an unprecedented growth in its cricketing influence, as well as financial influx, propelling it into the league of self-proclaimed ‘Big Three’ (which title has nothing to do with cricket performance, and only with the amount of money/influence that the respective cricket board has). And finally, the triumph of IPL (where Pakistani players are not invited to play) eclipsed the cricketing culture of a bygone era.

In this paradigm, Pakistan had trouble clawing its way out of isolationist darkness, and into the light of international cricket. The visit of Zimbabwe, in 2020, was a tremendous landmark in this regard, but not enough to trigger the re-entry of international cricket in Pakistan.

India, as part of its overall geopolitical rivalry with Pakistan, took advantage of the situation, and orchestrated the banishment of cricket from Pakistani soil, and positioned itself as the prime venue for cricket in South Asia.

Simultaneously, based on capricious objections to some of Pakistan’s most prolific spinners, who were then made to review their bowling actions in testing facilities located within India (which assess the players through non-transparent procedures), Pakistan cricket was delivered debilitating blows. And, of course, our team members played their part in pushing the national reputation closer to the cliff, through spot-fixing scandals.

This weaning of Pakistan’s international cricketing influence and the simultaneous rise of Indian cricket power, reached such boorish friction that, for the first time in bilateral history, the BCCI felt comfortable reneging on its commitment to play six different series with Pakistan (between 2015 and 2023), four of which were to be played at a venue of Pakistan’s choice.

In the days that followed, Pakistani commentators, former cricketers, and an ICC umpire, were asked to leave Indian soil because of threat from India’s Hindu militants.

Simultaneously, Indian arrogance reached an unbearable pitch. The thing about pride and swagger, which is the hallmark of Indian cricket these days, is that it is self-defeating.

Pride has a hypnotic way of deluding the wise, and compelling mistakes that are deemed unforgivable in the annals of history. As soon as any person, body, or nation, becomes convinced of its own greatness and invincibility, the divine arc of history has its way of levelling the playing field.

And that’s what happened in the T20 World Cup of 2021. Scheduled to be hosted by India, the tournament was shifted to the UAE, amidst India’s mismanagement of Covid-19 pandemic. And on the field, the India swagger was blunted by real talent from the world’s leading teams—led, of course, by Pakistan’s unbeaten 152-0, to defeat India by 10 wickets.

India and the BCCI would do well to remember that less than half a century ago, all international cricket teams were deemed second-tier in a sport that was exclusively the dominion of English and Australian cricketers.

A little over two decades ago, South Africa faced a cricketing apartheid based on their (then) board’s contempt for black-cricketers. And within a few decades, the bigoted empires of the yesteryears were made to kneel at the feet of a new cricketing world order.

But cricketing swagger and IPL money are not a replacement for actual talent and rigorous practice. They are also not replacements for humility and persistence. And Pakistan has shown that, despite international isolation, it excels in talent, humility and undying persistence.

After winning the war against terror, as Pakistan reclaims its place in the comity of civilised nations, our days of cricketing glory, of packed stadiums and international visitors will return once again.

And as that happens, the people of this country will remember how we were treated in our days of darkness; a memory that will last through generations.

Saad Rasool

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: saad@post.harvard.edu, or Twitter: 

@SaadRasooll