Da_final
Misbah does everything with a smile, for he knows that while Pakistan cricket needs those victories, the No. 1 rank, the country needs the smile as well © Getty Images

Let me tell you a story today, a story of cricket, of two old men and a bunch of youngsters who play a stupid, stupid sport where they think breaking for tea when a side is on the brink of creating history is a neat idea.

They will tell you that cricket is a sport played by ten teams, so reaching the top spot does not matter, what with The Olympics going on. What they will not tell you is that the quality of a sport does not depend on the universality, but on the quality of the teams that play.

It is a strange sport, cricket. ICC currently have 105 members, which means at least 105 nations play serious cricket. Despite that, the tenth, ninth, or even the eighth-ranked side are branded ‘minnows’.

If there is a sport this top-heavy, then I am not aware of it. Pardon me.

What this also means that breaking through to the top eight is not difficult, but once you are there, rising through the ranks is.

Pakistan were No. 6 in 2014. Since then, they have thrashed Australia and held New Zealand to a draw at home, have beaten Bangladesh and Sri Lanka at their dens and England at home, and have levelled a series in England.

In other words, they have gone through six series unbeaten, three at home, three away from it. And when I use the word ‘home’, I do not mean filled grounds at Karachi or Lahore with fans cheering every achievement. For Pakistan, ‘playing at home’ has been synonymous to winning matches and setting milestones in the dry heat of the Gulf with about more people on the ground than in the stands.

No team has managed a rise through ranks despite this.

I wanted to write a lot of things about why there have not been many success stories in cricket to match Pakistan’s, but Jarrod Kimber beat me to it in his wonderful piece in Dawn: “The West Indies had a home fortress. Australia and England were the most professional of their eras. India are a billion dollar team. And even South Africa’s troubles aren’t anything compared to Pakistan’s.”

No team has managed to fight back the way Pakistan has.

They did all that when their greatest batsman was busy creating history, both for himself and for the nation, as he approached forty.

They did all that when their captain, on the wrong side of forty, scored a hundred at Lord’s in orange boots and celebrated it with push-ups.

They did all that when their next big things are a leg-spinner, a 30-year old batting attractive batsman, and a 29-year-old dynamo on either side of the stumps. Thanks to Pakistan cricket, three men who should have been ruling Test cricket by now have been restricted to a mere 86 Tests between them as I type this.

They did all that when their spearhead was a man returning from a five-year ban — on the same ground where it had all started.

Seek out a member of the West Indian side of the 1980s or the Australian side the 2000s, the two greatest cricket teams in our recent memories.

Ask him whether his side would have become a champion if the core of them team consisted of a fast bowler returning from a ban, an ageing batting great, three talented men of around thirty but with limited experience, and led by a man who has reached an age when people typically are more interested in family soap operas and mutual funds.

Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and Mohammad Aamer and Yasir Shah and Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed do not sound like an all-conquering sextet. In fact, given their ages, they cannot even be branded as future prospects. And the career of only young one in above six is fresh from a career reboot.

Ask him whether his side would have risen to the top despite not playing a single home Test in seven years.

Ask him whether he would have done the same if bowling actions had taken his ace spinner away and had reduced a solid all-rounder to a feeble opener.

West Indies of 1980s and Australia of 2000s had champions opening batting. Pakistan do not have even one settled opener.

Both sides had four bowlers who made life miserable for their opposition. Pakistan do not know their pack of four till the night before the toss.

And yet they rose, pushing aside Australia and England and South Africa and India on their way up, pushing aside the Najam Sethi-Zaka Ashraf conundrum that had reduced PCB to a laughing-stock.

Only they know how they did all that. Maybe it has to do with their seemingly inexhaustible talent pool; or with the seniors rising to the challenge every time and the juniors following suit; or with the unconditional support from the fans across the globe.

Pakistan of 2016 are certainly not the greatest team in history. They are well away from being even the greatest Pakistan team.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar ruled Pakistan with an iron fist, as did Imran Khan decades after him. Not Misbah-ul-Haq. Misbah does everything with a smile, for he knows that while Pakistan cricket needs those victories, the No. 1 rank, the country needs the smile as well.

When Misbah celebrates you stand up with him, but you also smile, for Misbah brings peace, and that smile is ridiculously infectious.

You defend Younis Khan, pitting him against Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq.

You throw Asad Shafiq in the mix with Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, Joe Root, and Steven Smith.

You contemplate on whether Yasir Shah is the best contemporary spinner or Sarfraz Ahmed is the best contemporary wicketkeeper-batsman in the world while remembering the Saeed Ajmal days with fondness.

You are caught in two minds over Mohammad Aamer, oscillating between “once-a-sinner-always-a-sinner” and “he-has-served-his-sentence” modes. You argue endlessly, but when Aamer steams in with that new ball in his hands, you sit transfixed all the same.

In a way nobody represents the Pakistan side more than Aamer, for you are caught in two minds over Pakistan as well, irrespective of whether you love or hate them as a side.

Over years Pakistan has found ways — some true, others not — to force cricket to shun them: poor umpiring; fixing; ball-tampering; you name it, and you will find Pakistan in all of them. And now, in the new millennium, terrorist attacks.

And despite all that Pakistan have kept coming back. They have forced cricket to shun them, and yet have founds ways to stun the best in business. And while defeating one side after another, they have managed to secure a slot at the top rung.

Both West Indies and Australia had attained supremacy through ruthless decimation of one opposition after another. Pakistan have not reached there. But they have played a brand of cricket as exciting than any to have graced the sport.

And exciting cricket and successful cricket have seldom gone hand-to-hand. Back-to-the-wall performances are typically gritty ones, not meant to enthral the world. Pakistan have managed to combine play cricket under adversities and still manage to beat all around them.

Which is why cricket should be proud of Pakistan’s success, for seldom has the greatest of all sports had had better ambassadors.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)