The Nishan-e-Haider is Pakistan’s highest military award, bestowed to those brave men that have displayed the highest standards of gallantry fighting for Pakistan in battle. At Edgbaston Pakistan are fighting a battle they are unlikely to win, but all is fair in love and war and any act of bravely, heroism or class should be appreciated, notwithstanding the likely result of this largely one-sided contest.
Zulqernain Haider’s 88 has been made fighting against the toughest seam and swing bowling imaginable. Pakistan started this innings with a seemingly insurmountable lead of 179. The batting order collapsed. In came Zulqernian. He could have been dismissed on his first delivery, but the Review System saved him.
Perhaps it was divine intervention, or perhaps the spectre of destiny was calling upon him to carve his name in the annals of legend. And
that is what he did.
Haider played with a straight bat. He waited for the ball to reach the bat. He confronted the onslaught of outswing by opening the face of the bat and using timing to nudge the ball around and find gaps. His temperament was flawless, unflappable. At times, you saw a touch of genius; perfect timing, boundless confidence and treatment of balls with disdain. This was a man who had waited years to represent his country at international level and who has replaced a man, Akmal, whom many considered irreplaceable. The odds were stacked heavily against Haider. Were he out on the first ball in his second innings as well, his career would probably have been buried with his dismissal. But, providence had other plans for him. Rather than seeing Zulqernain’s career disappear in obscurity, we saw one of the most memorable debuts by a Pakistani cricketer.
Cricket has always provided Pakistanis with a distraction to the corruption, lawlessness, injustice and unhappiness the country has witnessed since its birth. Cricket and Islam are the two topics that unite this land of 160 million people of various ethnicities, social and economic backgrounds.
Cricket is as inextricable from Pakistani society as religion. Yet, at times you feel the two concepts converge. Channel your memories back to the final in UAE when Pakistan needed 4 runs to win from the last ball. Thousands of people in the ground and millions beyond it, were praying for a miracle. You saw men, women, children in the ground with their hands cupped and joined together in prayer. Miandad created history, and changed the course of Pakistan-India cricket with his sixer. Channel your memories back to the World Cup 1992 final, when Wasim Akram’s two unplayable and unprecedented deliveries changed the course of the match and placed victory in Pakistan’s lap. The match in 1996 in Nairobi, when a 16 year old boy struck the fastest century in international cricket, changing the art of modern batting. The Test match in 2009 when a middle order batsman who had never opened in his life and who had been ignored by selectors for three years was made a sacrificial lamb, and he responded by hitting an impeccable 168.
It is these occasions that makes you feel Pakistan cricket has some mystical connection with divinity.
There have been many Pakistani players who have accomplished amazing feats in their debut Test but then have vanished into oblivion. However, Haider’s superb knock is all the more prominent due to its context; this is amongst the worst tours the Pakistan team has had. It is unclear whether Haider will go on to become a great, or whether he will perish soon as many of his contemporaries.
Pakistan cricket fans have never been more upset with the team. Pakistan as a nation has been ravaged by floods, extreme weather, poverty, terrorism, corruption and mismanagement by its governments. But in the midst of gloom and woe, Haider has provided a bleeding nation with a smile, and a reason to hope- hope that the country will keep producing talented youngsters who will shock the world in the dawn of their careers. And hope that their country will keep shocking the world by producing real life fairy tales. This is Pakistan’s forte, its strength, its identity. And this is perhaps the product of a blind faith in religion; in illogical, unscientific tales of myth, folklore and of miracle.