Pakistan, unexpectedly, and defying all odds, are in the final of the Champions Trophy 2017. Forget the pundits, even a die-hard Pakistan fan wouldn't have imagined this team to qualify for the final at The Oval - historical for many reasons.
Ahead of their semi-final clash against the hosts, former England captain-turned commentator, Nasser Hussain had said: "The unpredictable take on the undefeated in this tournament." By the time the last ball in the first semi-final was bowled, Pakistan had added so much more to their "unpredictable" tag, much to the joy of cricket fans across the globe. The social media was abuzz following Pakistan’s stunning victory, and not for no reason. The Men in Green add so much more life to the world of cricket. They bring passion. They bring flamboyance. They bring natural flair. They bring volatility. They bring that unexpected charm.
Pakistan's success become even more spectacular when you consider the circumstances in which it has been achieved. Cricket’s basic structure is reeling for lack of attention and funds in the troubled nation. Pakistan have not hosted a top-tier international cricket team since the forgetful attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore and are therefore struggling for funds. There are just too many factions in the Pakistan Cricket Board and that’s not helping them either. But there is something magical that sustains cricket in Pakistan.
Back in 2011 during a World Cup match in Dhaka, I asked Peter Roebuck: "Why do you admire Pakistan cricket team so much?"
"Because it tells you about a community which does not know what tomorrow might bring," replied the legendary commentator, who died later that year under mysterious circumstances in South Africa.
The Sarfraz Ahmed-led side has just re-emphasised that fact. The rise of Hasan Ali and the return of Mohammed Amir has added so much more colour to this Champions Trophy. A week ago, who would have dreamt of an India-Pakistan final?
But, here we are, eagerly waiting for the mother of all clashes. Be rest assured that every seat at The Oval will be occupied much before a ball is being bowled.
Cricket provides some lakhs of Pakistanis residing in the United Kingdom a sense of belongingness. The Pakistani diaspora in the UK is ever growing, courtesy the socio-politico turmoil back home. Cricket means so much more to them than just being a game, played with a bat and ball.
The Sunday final at The Oval is sold out. Friends in the UK have reached out to social media asking if there is a way one can get a ticket. People are willing to shell out ten times more than what a normal ticket would cost.
India is in prime form and their batting looks in ominous touch. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni in the line-up is a good enough reason for the Indian team fans to be assured of a title triumph. Rest assured, we can expect a mouth-watering contest between the two sub-continental sides.
Now let us throw some word of caution. No India-Pakistan clash is a simple sporting contest between two playing teams. It often becomes a clash between two identities. Armies of two countries have often exchanged fire during the matches resulting in casualties. Teams which end up on the losing side is often subjected to stone-pelting and face the ire of the fans in many despicable forms. As a fan, while we must enjoy the intensity of this contest, we must also be mindful of the spirit of cricket.
When the two captains go for the flip of the coin on Sunday, there will be many things on the line. Every move will be dissected by the experts, press and the fans. Every decision will be evaluated. A lot would be on the line for the supporting staff and not just the 22 men playing. But at the end, there will be just one team jumping out in joy, but that does not mean we ridicule the other and condemn them. Let us all fasten our seat belts and be prepared for a super exciting game in the true sportsman spirit.
Bring it on!
(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of India TV.)