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Thank you, Afridi

For making Pakistan realise that cricket is a sport, not an identity, writes Maheen Sadiq.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2011 12:51 IST

There’s a lot to be said about the World Cup, especially our match against India. And it has a lot more to do with Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Gul’s bad luck, and Sachin Tendulkar’s good fortune. Cricket speaks to our nation in a way our government never has. And Shahid Afridi addressed the nation in a way our president never has — unselfish, genuine, modest. So when Afridi apologised to Pakistan, millions listened and were humbled by the gesture. Our eyes were filled with tears and our hearts with love and a strange kind of sorrow. Afridi, you need not apologise to the nation. We are proud of you and our entire cricket team!

You didn’t bring back the cup, but any excitement, any happiness, any hope that Pakistanis have felt in the past few months is because of your brilliance. We’ve been hearing a lot of ‘Pakistan needs something to celebrate’, but what Pakistanis really needed was something to look forward to. The green team gave us that with the anticipation of each game played.

The funny thing about cricket is that it can unite the nation through a victory or a loss. It would have been wonderful to go out on the streets and celebrate with dhols, as we did when we won the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup in 2009. But even after our loss on Wednesday, the people of Pakistan, in their state of disbelief, came out and shared their sorrow. Misery loves company. Cars on streets, people driving around slowly, quietly, patiently. No honking, no cursing, nowhere to go, nowhere to escape. It was surreal. This only goes to show what cricket means to us and

the massive void it fills for our nation. Cricketers, you made us patriotic. You made us passionate. You made us proud. And these precious adjectives are some that Pakistan rarely gets the chance to associate itself with.

So again, Afridi, your apology is appreciated but not needed. You conducted yourself with patience, grace and dignity, encouraging your own with a smile, and congratulating the opponents with an even bigger smile. You didn’t win the semi-finals, but you won our hearts. Thank you for showing the world we are not an aggressive nation.

To Pakistan, I propose this: if there’s anyone who needs to apologise, it’s us. So to Afridi and the team, I apologise for the pressure I put on you to win the World Cup. It comes from my own shortcomings. So lazy and so cowardly am I that I am incapable of creating for myself a reason to celebrate Pakistan. Since as far as I can remember, my patriotism has tenaciously clung to cricket. It is unfair. I know.

To those Pakistanis who thought this was a match between Hindus and Muslims, I’m glad India won. This was never a battle between nations, or a jihad against Hindus. It was a semi-final cricket match, and if a loss is what it took to be reminded of this then I’m glad we lost. Victory would have only made you gloat over something you had done wrong all along. However, if there was one thing I was relieved to discover it was that we don’t hate India. We may hate America, but we don’t hate India. No burning of the Indian flag, no bitter remarks, no threatening reaction. Just healthy competition and a pure love for the game.

So we don’t hate India. In fact, we hate Asif Ali Zardari. What pleased me even more were the numerous text messages and Facebook statuses I came across that poked fun at Zardari. My personal favourite is, “We congratulate India on winning the semi-finals. As a goodwill gesture, India can keep Pakistan’s prime minister. And if it wins the finals, we will give our president too.” Ahhh, Zardari jokes. They never get old. He’s our scapegoat now. It’s his fault we lost. Somehow.

It’s time we stopped asking of our cricketers something we should have been asking of ourselves. Or our government. Let’s find ourselves a reason to be patriotic and celebrate Pakistan, and let cricket be a sport, not an identity. If we all just took a little responsibility, maybe our beloved team can finally approach the pitch as cricketers, not as soldiers entering the battlefield. We owe it to them. Welcome back, boys!

(Maheen Sadiq from Pakistan wrote this article for the Pakistan Defence Forum before the India-Sri Lanka final.)

*The views expressed by the author are personal.