If there was ever a time that this Australian would want to visit Pakistan, it would be now.
Forget the imposing mountain passes, the gracious ancient markets, or the traditional tribal villages. These will always be there.
Heightened levels of national pride come and go. But I have a hunch that right now, the pride meter in Pakistan is going off the charts.
I want to wander into random cafes, drink coffee and talk cricket with you. We can talk Misbah and Younis Khan and Yasir. We can debate Amir and Hafeez. You can tell me all about Inzamam and his brilliant selection policies and those army training camps.
However, I’m almost certain that you will forget one of the most important characters from this story. One who was there at the beginning, but was not quite at the end. Like a character from Game of a Thrones, he was killed off just as the fable was reaching its crescendo.
Pakistan are unique amongst the subcontinental countries. While teams like India and Sri Lanka produce world class spin bowlers, the green shirts prefer to breed quicks. Gentlemen with robust shoulders that hurl a package of thunderbolts and fear.
Is it because the home wickets have pace and bounce?
No one can remember. We haven’t seen a Test match on Pakistani soil since 2009.
Maybe it is cultural? Perhaps there exists a warrior class that revels in their sons being intimidatory?
Whatever force is behind it, it starts early. Pakistani quicks don’t mature or get better with age. They start at their peak. They debut as teenagers. They have no patience to learn their craft. They don’t need to. They are already born with it.
Pakistan and broken stumps. God’s gift to cricket.
Pakistan doesn’t usually value its coaches. They exist, but not to guide the team. No one is listening. Instead, the coach is there because other countries have them. It is the done thing. It is for appearances. Personalities like Afridi and Akmal and Malik don’t need others to teach them anything.
Get a foreigner if you can. That brings prestige.
Woolmer and Lawson and Whatmore and Arthur.
Who was the coach when Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992? No one really cares. Some die-hards may recall that it was Intikhab. The same Intikhab that led Pakistan to World T20 glory in 2009. The same Intikhab who still travels with the team.
Yet despite some white ball success, it is the red ball that is the king maker. Never the coach.
Pakistani coaches are just a commodity. So much so that there have been 28 coaches since that World Cup victory.
That’s more than one per year.
In 1989, Waqar Younis made his international debut. In that same match, a tiny little thing by the name of Sachin Tendulkar did the same.
The “Burewala Express” was quick. Very quick.
For the next 15 years, he would stay quick. But being quick was not enough. Waqar also made the ball talk.
It swung. Late. Sharply. Dangerously.
His Test bowling average was 23.56. Over 350 Test batsmen succumbed to his will.
That makes Waqar very good. Probably great. Definitely a national hero.
Waqar decides he wants to teach. In 2006 his business card reads “Bowling Coach – Pakistan National Cricket Team”.
Like all great Pakistanis, he soon quits because his honour is under attack. In this case, it is because the PCB refuse to hire him for more than a series at a time.
In this country, honour means everything.
Early 2010, after coach number twenty-something is fired after a dismal performance in Australia, Waqar becomes the top dog. It is his team now.
Pakistan is still reeling after some arsehats decide to shoot up a bus full of Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore only a few months earlier.
This is about as low as it gets.
Then Butt, Amir and Asif morphed into the stereotype. Not just three random fringe players, but the captain and their next two great bowling hopes.
Pakistan seem to collect low points like some sort of disturbed hoarder.
Misbah becomes the new captain. Waqar is the newish coach.
The rebuild begins.
Then it stops.
Waqar quits in 2011.
Some blame the Afridi factor. Without doubt there was a factor of some kind. There are always factors in Pakistan.
It could have been anything. It probably had something to do with honour.
It’s always honour.
Leading into the 2015 World Cup in Australia, Pakistan are ranked 8th in ODI cricket.
They have just qualified for the Champions Trophy. They achieved this by refusing to play Sri Lanka in case they lost. For a loss would have seen them swap places with the West Indies on the sidelines.
The globe is focused on ODI cricket. Test rankings at this point in time mean little. Less than little.
It doesn’t matter that they had recently creamed Australia 2-0. It didn’t matter that Yasir Shah had just been discovered. It didn’t matter that Misbah had just made the fastest Test century in history. It didn’t matter that Pakistan were slowly creeping up the rankings. It just didn’t matter.
Winning ODI’s mattered now. Well, beating India in Adelaide mattered. Win that and the job was done. The rest didn’t matter.
But Pakistan didn’t win in Adelaide. Pakistan couldn’t even beat a third string West Indies team.
Despite his best efforts, Waqar cannot build a white ball team.
Waqar wrote a report about these failings. It was scathing of selection policies. It was scathing of Afridi. It recommended change. He needed help from the Board.
The report leaked. Waqar stood by every word.
As a coach in white ball cricket, Waqar’s methods failed.
However, in Test cricket, Pakistan were ranked number two in the world.
Waqar was making kings.
Post that tournament, Pakistan went back into Test cricket mode.
They beat Bangladesh. They beat Sri Lanka. They beat England in the desert. They drew with England in the cold.
What they didn’t do was lose.
What they did do was cull.
No more Afridi. No more Akmals. No more Shoaib Malik miraculous comebacks. No more egos.
Army camps happened. No more overweight players.
The Younis-ul-Haq combination led by example.
Defiant push-ups. Respectful salutes.
Some guy called Mickey joined what used to be a circus. Now it was a Rolls Royce engine. Smooth. Balanced. Purring.
This Pakistan was rarer than a Kamran Akmal catch.
This Pakistan was glorious.
It rained in the Port-of-Spain.
It stopped India from most likely beating the West Indies in the fourth and final Test.
It stopped India holding onto the number one Test ranking.
It stopped the sorrow in Pakistan. It stopped the blaming in Pakistan. It was no longer “Misbah’s Fault”.
It was now Misbah’s legacy.
Pakistan are most likely to lose the number one ranking in October. Nothing they do can affect this. It is just how the system works.
India will ask for the Test mace to be returned.
But it will have been an amazing 6 or 7 weeks.
With the world watching in 2016, Pakistan couldn’t win even a single Olympic medal.
With the world watching in 2016, Pakistan reached a sporting high never before seen in that country.
Teams don’t become the best in the world overnight.
It takes many things. Culture, support staff, a helpful Board, hard work, fast bowlers, skillful batsmen and luck.
But most importantly, it requires the ability to take what the guys before you left behind and build on it.
Waqar didn’t create the current culture. Waqar didn’t make Misbah a great leader of men. Waqar didn’t discover Yasir or re-integrate Amir or make it rain in the Port-of-Spain.
However, he did lay the foundations for others to build on. He said enough was enough. He influenced change. He believed in his men.
He showed the courage to coach like be bowled. Fearless. Afraid of no-one. Leading by example. Instilling that courage into others.
By the time Mickey Arthur arrived, all he had to do was walk over and tap in the putt.
Perhaps one day there will be a bronze statue of Misbah outside Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore.
There should be. He has done the remarkable. The unthinkable. The unbelievable.
And when that happens, at the very least, someone should inscribe the name Waqar Younis on the name plate. Just in a corner somewhere. Write it small if need be. But just write it.
For without him, Pakistan would not be celebrating like they are now.
Originally printed in Dawn
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