The Leading Edge

Here's how to understand the beautiful madness of Pakistan

There is Islamophobia in the way Pakistan are dismissed as wonderful but weird

16 December 2018 - 00:00 By Telford Vice


To try to understand the viscerally beautiful madness that is Pakistan cricket, consider the chasm of contrast that looms between Imran Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.
Khan has lived a charmed life to go with his charm, bedding princesses, debutantes and the daughters of knights, and graduating from Oxford in philosophy, politics and economics. With honours.
The second of his three wives claims he is addicted to alcohol, hard drugs and even harder gay porn. And that he doesn't like being teased about his hair implants.
It is somehow secondary that Khan also played some of the most exciting cricket yet played, and captained a beaten team to triumph in a World Cup. These days he holds down perhaps a less challenging job as Pakistan's prime minister.
Misbah, a softly smiling rumpled raincoat of a man, has an MBA in human resource management from the University of Management and Technology in Lahore. He has been married to the same woman for 14 years. So far, so sexy.
Eyebrows won't twitch, never mind raise, at the fact that no one who scored as many runs as Misbah in one-day internationals - 5,122 in 149 innings - also never made a century.
But those same eyebrows will arch at this: Misbah mauled a half-century off 21 balls facing an attack that bristled with Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle in Abu Dhabi in 2014; a record for the fastest 50. And this: he reached a century off 56 balls in the same innings, equalling Viv Richards' then record.
Brendon McCullum surpassed Richards and Misbah by two balls in 2016. Fourth on the list is Adam Gilchrist, who got there in 57 against England at the WACA in 2006.
It's difficult to decide which is less credible: that someone who has careered through years of sex and drugs and rock n' roll has morphed into a figure pious enough to be chosen by his compatriots to lead a nation for whom nothing matters as much as religion, or that a mild-mannered HR manager has earned a place among some of the most vicious hitters of a cricket ball who have yet lived.
Such complexity doesn't fit cricket's kneejerk readiness to embrace stereotypes. Australians? Arrogant. Indians? Haughty. The English? Conceited. West Indians? Once great, now lazy. New Zealanders? Flinty, but too small to matter. South Africans? Resourceful, but mentally fragile.
Pakistanis? Ball-tampering match-fixers who run on controversy and drama, who every few decades somehow get their act together well enough to play properly.
"You never know," one of cricket's most tired and empty clichés goes, "which Pakistan team is going to turn up."
Talk about arrogant, conceited and lazy. It's a view that serves to write off the Pakistanis as not to be taken seriously, never mind understood as a singular culture within the game's broader culture.
There is Islamophobia in the way Pakistan are dismissed as wonderful but weird, racism veiled in the language of othering.
Rarely are attempts made to walk in the shoes of a team who have not played a Test at home in more than nine years, and who have lost only three more than they have won of the 83 they have contested in that time.
In the 1970s, when the Pakistanis got their heads around the strangiosity of reverse swing before anyone else, they were accused of ball-tampering. Now every side out there is trying to teach the old ball to do new tricks.
As for the match-fixing scorecard, seven of Pakistan's international players have been banned. That's a record, but they share it with a team who would balk at the insinuation that corruption is part of their way of cricket. Who are they? They'll be in the other dressing room at Centurion on December 26.

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