Scene on hai?
In other words, is it on? Is it happening? Is it really happening? You need not ask more. You need not say more. It has been a sort of secret greeting, the widest-known secret because the millions of Pakistan fans are in on it. Ever since Sri Lanka – Pakistan lite, as it has been proven time and again – beat England to slice open this World Cup and hand Pakistan, among others, a lifeline, this question has gained serious momentum.
This it is this awesome, all-consuming, enormous roll that Pakistan tend to get on when everything miraculously starts falling in place. Actually, let’s just use a capital I to spell It, shall we? Just like Chris Jericho’s “It”, Pakistan’s It has a life of its own, a meaning of its own. This It is a proper noun. This It is a one-word catchphrase.
And It is not just Pakistan’s cricket. Unrelated events start conspiring to push them along. This is not even about the 1992 World Cup although it is a massive surprise there hasn’t emerged a viral Twitter account called Banwey [Urdu/Punjabi/Hindi for 92]. The similarities are indeed eerie, but the Banwey thing started as a self-mocking parody because fans knew the team were a shambles coming into this World Cup.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) – Full highlights of Pakistan’s victory
While other serious contenders were preparing and planning for this World Cup at least two years in advance, Pakistan practically assembled a team two days before. Mohammad Amir, now the second-highest wicket-taker in this World Cup, was not even a part of the XV originally announced. Wahab Riaz was not even part of the provisional 30 names announced. He was not even at the training camps. In a gloriously Pakistani way, he was privately advised to not go a holiday that he wanted to go on. Because somebody in the camp didn’t rule out this kind of a last-minute call-up happening. That is Pakistan.
Rationalists saw the desperate Pakistan team that was hoping for miracles rather than believing in themselves. They were hoping for wonders from Wahab, who should have been on a holiday, from Amir, who had hardly taken a wicket last year, from Shoaib Malik, who has a terrible record in England. Belief is an extremely important word in this story. That belief was not there at the start. They didn’t even know what their combination should be. They were just hoping to turn up on the day and outdo meticulously planned teams.
And so the Banwey parody continued even as all hell broke loose with all familiar tropes. Customary TV-smashing has already happened. Small-time rabble rousers have gathered serious notoriety. Sarfaraz Ahmed has been harassed in a mall. Half-truths – if that – about players’ unhealthy eating have been accepted as serious criticism by fans. A non-Pakistani Pakistan coach has rather insensitively spoken about feeling like committing suicide because of a loss at the World Cup. What else is left to do then? It.
Sri Lanka – the Pakistan of this tournament till we searched the real Pakistan – had no business beating tournament favourites England. But they did, thereby saving this tournament from 20-odd dead rubbers. Since then, especially in Birmingham with a big population of Pakistani origin, there has been this irrational belief among the fans. Belief that not only can Pakistan win their remaining four matches – including those against South Africa, the undefeated New Zealand and the rising Bangladesh – but also that through some cosmic power England can lose all their mojo.
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Even within the team things started to fit in miraculously. Having refused to drop Malik all this while, they finally gave a chance to Haris Sohail almost as an afterthought in a defeated campaign. Haris drowned South Africa, a man Pakistan kept denying in matches when the tournament was wide open. This was a sign. Like Fakhar Zaman in the 2017 Champions Trophy replacing the suspended Sharjeel Khan, like Rumman Raees replacing the injured Wahab, like Faheem Ashraf being picked as a batting allrounder but giving them bonus wickets with the ball. Like Abdul Razzaq who replaced the injured Yasir Arafat in the World T20 of 2009 and removed Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill in his first spell.
It was a wild fantasy when Sri Lanka won on Friday, there was a little bit more conviction with this Sunday win. On Tuesday you couldn’t sit in a Birmingham cab that didn’t have radio commentary of the Lord’s match on. As Australia piled on the runs, as their bowlers turned it on in the second innings, the question had found more urgency: “Kya lagta hai, scene on hai? [What do you think, is It on?]”
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You could see it in bowling coach Azhar Mahmood’s press conference where he just stopped short of calling New Zealand chokers. They are a team, he said, that has great record in league stages of every big tournament before losing in the semi-final or quarter-final before couching it under the law of averages. “Everybody has to have one bad day,” he said with conviction that the bad day would be against them on Wednesday.
It can be difficult against a team that has such belief. Bazid Khan, former Pakistan cricketer and now a commentator, an astute observer of Pakistan and a known rationalist, explains it irrationally when you tell him every team goes with a belief they can win. “There’s a difference between belief and yakeen,” he says. Yakeen is basically a literal Urdu/Punjabi/Hindi translation of belief. But belief is belief, and yakeen is It.
WATCH on Hotstar (US only) – Full highlights of Pakistan’s win v NZ
When that yakeen of the team meets the yakeen of the loudest crowd you can encounter, and when you add bits of other accidents, it makes for a perfect storm that makes you actually want to sit up and ask, “Is It on?”
Pakistan are planning to bat first, but they lose the toss and get first use of the seaming ball. The best readers of pitches, New Zealand, have erred and have played only one spinner in arguably a match-losing error. Shaheen Shah Afridi finds the right length and the right amount of seam movement. Enough to miss the middle but not so much that he beats the edge. This is the biggest sign of It. This is a tournament where it has taken on average 14 false shots to draw one wicket in the first 10 overs. On Tuesday at Lord’s, England drew 25 false shots in the first 10 overs for no Australian wicket. Here the first nine have brought four wickets.
One of those is a smashing diving, one-handed low catch from Sarfaraz, known so far only for yawning in this World Cup. There is not a soul yawning at Edgbaston. The atmosphere is wild. People are having the times of their lives. They are living every ball. They have forgiven all burgers and pizzas eaten or not eaten. When Azhar lightened the situation around the suicide comments of Arthur with part humour, part harsh truths, he told the fans and the media to give them also a reason to live. Afridi bowling full, the ball jagging just enough, taking the edges is reason enough to live.
Pakistan fans show their support Getty Images
Babar Azam – him taking a dipping catch from Alex Hales in the Champions Trophy 2017 was the first definite sign that It was on back then – is continuously sniffing during the press conference after scoring the century that has broken a mental block for him, a streak of pretty fifties not amounting to match-winning knocks, especially in chases. He has the flu, because of which he didn’t train the day before. That, according to the batting coach Grant Flower, is the only thing he has done differently this time. And that has come by accident and not design. This is It. Many of these players – Babar and Afridi of course – were not even born in 1992, but they know 2017 and they know 2009.
Pakistan are definitely feeling It now. They know they have beaten the tournament favourites, and ended the unbeaten streak of New Zealand, which surely you have been reminded of many times. They know in all likelihood – Pakistan need to beat Afghanistan for that – that England will come to play India at Edgbaston, probably the slowest track of the tournament, one point behind Pakistan. They now know that even if England beat New Zealand, there is a chance they will end up level with New Zealand. In that case they will play the last game, knowing what to do to achieve the required net run rate. Belief is turning into yakeen fast.
There is probably a rational explanation for what is happening, but let’s not be rationalists for a day, shall we? Or a week. Let’s just accept Pakistan. There’s every chance this might not end the way other such rolls have ended, but right now it is not a question anymore. Scene on hai boss. It is on.