It seems that the Green Shirts have resolved to reassert their dominance in the face of all those who have doubted or shirked them in the past. After blowing the otherwise formidable Indian team out of the water on Sunday, the Pakistani team performed with the same heat in last night’s match against New Zealand.
Pakistan won the toss in both matches and chose to start with a bowling attack against the opponent teams. This served them very well with Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf taking wicket after wicket in a wonderful performance. The victories were celebrated with more fervor than usual as this was Pakistan’s first ever victory against India in a T20 series. Similarly, the victory against New Zealand was deemed a satisfying response to the team’s humiliating last-minute refusal to play matches in Pakistan last month citing security concerns.
Of course, Twitter was ecstatic! Celebrities to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, himself a former celebrated cricketer, poured in their heartiest congratulations to the team, particularly saluting Captain Babar Azam’s leadership skills.
And who can turn down the strong pull of a time-honored tradition – making memes out of India and New Zealand’s losses?
Beyond the light-hearted humor however, many also couldn’t help but appreciate how important these matches are in bridging the political gap between Pakistan and India. Indian Captain Virat Kohli was widely applauded for his sportsmanship, and for handling their defeat with grace.
Similarly, Twitter users issued an apology to last night’s man of the match, Haris Rauf, who had remained the subject of widespread ridicule before then.
And, of course, some more memes.
The debate intensified to the point that famous former pacer, Shoaib Akhtar, and PTV anchor, Dr. Nauman Niaz, got into a spat on live national television over who was to credit for Haris Rauf’s rise to stardom. As a result of the bitter exchange, the celebrated former cricketer quit his role on the show and in PTV Sports. The drama resulted in the following hashtags #Apologise, #ShoaibAkhtar, #NaumanNiaz and #Remove trend on Pakistani Twitter.
On the darker side of things, the hashtags #Peace and #LetPeacePrevail were also pushed forward as a response to what many citizens saw as politicians involving nationalism and religious agendas into the team’s victory.
Sports have famously played a major role in bridging barriers; cricket, in particular, occupies a unique position in Pakistan as the glue for the otherwise bitterly divided population. The spirit and respect with which teams greet and interact with each other in these televised matches sets a positive example for the masses in their respective nations, some of whom may be fueled by toxic propaganda or politics. Therefore, Kohli must be applauded for embodying that grace and respect, win or lose.
It’s been a dramatic few days, and the journey to achieving these victories has been nothing short of a roller-coaster. Friday’s match against Scotland has the whole nation wondering whether it’s finally time to let go of the previous fears, doubts and insecurities when it comes to the skill and promise of our national team - or to hold on to our hats!