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The moment we, Pakistan, waited for Getty Images
Hello, world. It has been some time since we have got in touch, for you do not show up in these parts of the world anymore. We really do not blame you after that attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in 2009: of course, we miss international cricket, but we understand, for we do not want cricketers to put their lives at risk. The last few years have been hard on us, but we have managed to live through them, thanks to cricket. Cricket is sacrosanct to us, and there is no way we want anything to happen to cricketers. Ever. But spare a thought for us as well. We have agreed to hosting cricket at a neutral venue where nobody turns up to watch Test cricket. Our heroes play all around the world in various domestic leagues, but we do not get to see them in flesh and blood at the highest level at home. We love watching domestic cricket, but we crave for more. We did not get to host cricket at home. We were desperate. We had to prove a point, as did our heroes. So they won the ICC World T20 for us, and we cheered. Little did we know that our next trip to the same nation would bring horrors of all sorts. We know you remember what happened on that ill-fated tour. Our Test captain retired mid-series. Three of our cricketers, the new captain and a teenager included, were accused of spot-fixing. We were not supposed to turn around so quickly, but we did. Back then in had three talismans, in Younis Khan, Saeed Ajmal, and Shahid Afridi: a legend-in-the-making, an indecipherable wizard, and an eccentric genius. There was the support cast, fast bowlers who appear and disappear the way they have always done throughout history, but we needed a team. There was no leader. We did not have a leader. Younis would complete his transition to the next level and graduate to the league of legends, but Younis was not the leader who would turn things around. Younis would lead by his incredible batsmanship, but lifting a team from what seemed a dead end? No, we did not entrust that to Younis. We chose a queer hero, you know, a man who had taken us to the brink of World T20 2007 before throwing it away. At 36, Misbah-ul-Haq hardly looked awe-inspiring, let alone a long-term prospect. His CV said he had an MBA degree, but that nervous smile did not exactly ooze confidence. We barracked him whenever he batted slowly during that excruciating crawl on captaincy debut, but we loved him back when he crossed fifty in each of his next 6 innings. We booed him whenever he got bogged down, called him tuk-tuk, made memes of him, but deep down there we loved him. Whenever our team lost we compared him with other international captains. We knew it was unfair, for none of them was up against a task so humongous, of never getting to play at home, of dealing with constant change in board personnel, to come back from the ruins of the spot-fixing scandals. Misbah showed us the way. Younis shone like a beacon. And Ajmal got the wickets. We drew against South Africa, the world champions of the longest format; we beat New Zealand at their den; we beat Sri Lanka and whitewashed England; we drew against South Africa again; we chased down 302 against Sri Lanka at over 5 an over; we whitewashed Australia; and we beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. In our nomadic stint since 2009, we have played 9 series at neutral venues, winning 4 and losing 5. But that is not all, you know. When MCC played Rest of the World XI in 2014, Ajmal took 4 for 45, ripping through the top order. Ajmal never played a Test at home, but he carried his home everywhere he went. He did well in England, in South Africa, in Sri Lanka, in West Indies, and of course, in UAE. We had not found our new ace fast bowler yet, but we had an off-spinner, a throwback to the days of Saqlain Mushtaq. The fast bowlers came and disappeared, then reappeared: Junaid Khan; Rahat Ali; Wahab Riaz; Aijaz Cheema; Imran Khan; Mohammad Irfan; Mohammad Talha; Bilawal Bhatti; Ehsan Adil; we even recalled Mohammad Sami and Umar Gul. They played in bursts, and barring one or two, all had their moments. Misbah had led the turnaround. Younis was scoring heavily without anyone noticing. Mohammad Hafeez was not a great opening batsman, but he was the all-rounder of the side. There was a young talent in Azhar Ali. Things were finally falling into place. Misbah. Younis. Ajmal. Heroes in our dark days. Then came the blows: Ajmal was called for suspect action, then banned, and with him went Hafeez. Suddenly our ace spinner was gone, and our all-rounder became a batsman who would struggle to keep his place as a specialist batsman. We still hoped. For us, cricket was hope, cricket is hope. We have seen bad times, harsh times. Things were rosy for us in the 1950s, but do you know that we had played a mere 10 series in the next decade, only 4 of which came at home, 2 of which were against New Zealand, the weakest of the sides? It all changed in the 1970s, with Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, those two pillars coming into prominence. Throughout the 1980s we were the only ones to look at West Indies in their eyes. We won Tests everywhere, holding West Indies at bay at the same time. We put India under psychological pressure whenever they played us. They complained when they could not handle our reverse-swing, but eventually they had to adapt, and even learn the art. We gave the world Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar and Inzamam-ul-Haq who saw us through the match-fixing menaces of the 1990s. Along with these masters, in the shorter versions we had Afridi and Abdul Razzaq. Despite the resurgence of Australia and the rise of South Africa, we remained formidable whenever we took field. All that was gone. It would not have hurt as much if we did not have a glorious past. But it did, since we were not carrying on the legacy anymore. We were not invited anymore. We had not toured England for a Test series since 2010, Australia since 2009-10, South Africa since 2012-13, New Zealand since 2010-11, West Indies since 2011, and India since 2007-08. That was what cricket was like for us. You probably do. You probably do not. You probably will not. And despite that, there was hope; and there was cricket. And there were Misbah and Younis the pair of shoulders that kept Pakistan cricket afloat in the 2010s. We admire them. We respect them. In a few decades, history will acknowledge them as the men who have turned our cricket around. But then, out of nowhere, we unearthed a Yasir Shah, who arrived with lavish praises from two legendary leg-spinners. We found Asad Shafiq, who, we think, may be someone the world would do well to keep an eye on. And we found an unflinching street-fighter called Sarfraz Ahmed. All we needed was that one spearhead. And Mohammad Aamer came back. We prepared Aamer as the world took to comparing Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steven Smith, and Kane Williamson with who do you think is the greatest? memes. We had that one Afridi, though, who continues to remain an enigma. Nobody remembers he is an excellent wrist-spinner. We only remember his sixes and ducks and retirements, and speculate which of the three happens more frequently. We laugh at him, but when he hit that six we smile. We make fun of him, but we love him all the same, the way we love Misbah despite his tuk-tuk. We succeeded. We failed. We succeeded again. England have not lost a home series for some time. Few gave us a chance. They put pressure on Aamer the moment he landed on British soil. Aamer made headlines while Shafiq and Yasir did not, which was fine with us, for their performances went unnoticed. While they were speculating on how Aamer will do at Lord s, our heroes were preparing at military camp. When our 42-year-old captain walked out on Day One, people laughed at his orange boots. They stood up in unison to applaud when he reached three figures. They booed Aamer. They ooh-ed when Alastair Cook was dropped off him. They gasped when he floored Cook, who had been standing firm amidst the ruins. And that Yasir ran through. And Shafiq came good. And Rahat appeared out of nowhere. And Yasir ran through again. And to provide the perfect finish, Aamer finished things off, scripting a finish you will find only in Bollywood movies. Indeed, Aamer s comeback has been a fairytale beyond the most imaginative of playwrights. He took only 3 wickets; while one of them was massive, the other two will make their way to the most-viewed YouTube videos. The Lord s Test may be a one-off. It may not be. But it is not the same as the Australian win at the same ground last year or the Indian one the year before. For them it was just another win at Lord s historic, worth cherishing, but that was about it. It is different for us. We had not lost hope over years. We had won in Dubai and Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, but the touring teams had been dismissive about their defeats. We needed to prove a point. We needed to prove to the world it was not over for us. We needed the win for Misbah and Younis, general and lieutenant, stalwarts of our dark days; we needed to cherish a win for them, for we would have hated to see their thankless efforts go down the drain. We needed to see Shafiq proving himself, letting the world know that he was right up there with the best. We need to show why we call Yasir is the best. We needed to be hooked on to our television sets when Aamer hit timber to seal the Test. We needed to see us win Tests overseas, the way it always was, in the 1950s, from the 1970s to the 1990s, even the 2000s. We had not given up hope all these years. Some teams do not win big Tests because they cannot. We do not win because we do not get to play as often. We sincerely hope you do not have to live the pain of being ignored. It becomes very lonely, you know. No, you will not understand what this win meant for us. It was not about Pakistan beating England at Lord s. It was about Pakistan laughing and crying and nodding and celebrating as one with their heroes. It was about the hunger and hope we have nurtured over six years. Now, after all these years, when it culminated into this, we erupted in joy you do not know, for you have not been shunned by mainstream international cricket for so long. Tonight is ours. We had backed our heroes, and our heroes had backed us to support them when it mattered most. And we will celebrate with them, our heroes who had taken us this far, as one. You are, of course, welcome to our party. We make awesome biryani, you know. (Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor of CricketCountry and CricLife. He tweets at @ovshake42.)