In the West, sports is taken as a recreational activity where a few individuals (read sportsmen) indulge to make a name for themselves. With their success, their country also experiences success, but their losses don’t mean that the country has lost. In Pakistan, playing sports is not a luxury but a responsibility, where losing is not an option. As the decade changes and a new year makes its presence felt, we decided to take a look at some of the important events that happened during 2010 and 2019, and took sports in Pakistan to new heights, or pushed them towards a new low which, at times, was rock bottom.
Highlight: Pakistan won two major cricket tournaments during the decade, Asia Cup in 2012 and the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017. Under Misbah-ul-Haq’s captaincy, Pakistan became the number one Test team and by the end of the decade, Test Cricket returned to the country.
Rock Bottom: The spot-fixing scandal of 2010 dented Pakistan’s credibility while continued poor performance in ICC events didn’t help either.
The year 2010 began for Pakistan on a bad note; they fared badly in Australia and to top it off, Shahid Afridi chewed the ball in front of the whole stadium to embarrass the team further. Within a few months, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir, and Salman Butt were found guilty of spot-fixing during the Oval Test between Pakistan and England, and were jailed with suspended sentences that halted their impressive careers. It further worsened the situation for Pakistan whose players weren’t playing at home due to terrorism and were being eyed as cheaters due to their cricketers’ involvement in spot-fixing.
However, Misbah-ul-Haq then took charge and helped Pakistan reach the top of the ICC Test Table, making a team out of newcomers. He helped Pakistan win a Test series in the West Indies, something that had eluded his predecessors; he also managed to draw a series with England and became the oldest captain to score a century at Lord’s in modern cricket. He couldn’t rescue Pakistan alone and needed the guidance of Younis Khan, who remained his steadfast deputy, especially in Tests. He took less than 20 years to become the first and so far the only Pakistani to score over 10 thousand Test runs. The two were the main reason why Pakistan managed to win the ICC Test Championship mace for the first time.
Despite doing well in Tests, the team fared worse at the World Cups, losing the semi-final to India in 2011, and not even reaching the last four in the next two editions. They, however, managed to win the Asia Cup in 2012 under Misbah-ul-Haq and the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 under Sarfaraz Ahmed that required special performance from some of the players. It was in the Asia Cup in 2012 that Pakistan managed to silence a whole Bangladeshi crowd that was expecting their side to win but lost by just two runs, thanks to Aizaz Cheema’s brilliant final over. Five years later, the team managed to shock the world by winning the ICC Champions Trophy; with Sarfaraz Ahmed in charge, the team beat the best in the world to clinch the one title that was missing from their cupboard. And to top it all, they defeated the one team that had earlier downed them in the opening game in such a way that the whole of India went into depression.
As for the T20 Cricket, Pakistan remained the top side in this format for a decade. Even then, their performance in ICC events wasn’t satisfactory at all. They ended fourth in the 2010 World T20 where they went in as defending champions and were thrashed out of the park by Michael Hussey who treated Saeed Ajmal like a club bowler. Two years later they ended in the semi-finals but lost, after which they didn’t reach the last four. Let’s hope they start the new decade with a new zeal and manage to shock the world rather than disappoint their fans with lackluster performance. However, one look at the Pakistan Super League’s four editions and you fail to realize that with so much talent, how is Pakistan not winning every match it participates in.
Highlight: Pakistan won gold at the Asian Games after 20 years, struck gold at South Asian Games thrice and won the Asian Champions Trophy three times.
Rock Bottom: Pakistan failed to qualify for Olympic Games three times in a row, missed the World Cup in 2014 and ended at last place in 2010 and 2018. They even failed to qualify for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and missed a few editions of Azlan Shah Hockey tournament.
Pakistan’s performance in hockey was not much different from cricket; they won regional tournaments but failed to qualify for the global ones that mattered. In the sport which is supposed to be our national game, Pakistan stands nowhere at the international level and even missed tournaments like the World Cup and Champions Trophy, which were initiated by Pakistan way back in the 1970s. The last time Pakistan played in the Olympic Games was way back in 2012 where three-time champions ended at seventh position. They won the Asian Champions Trophy three times in 2012, 2013 and 2018 but that wasn’t enough to make them qualify for mega events they were missing. Two silver medals in the Asian Champions Trophy and three golds in South Asian Games couldn’t motivate fans of the game back home, although the Asian Games in 2010 did instill life in the national sport for some time. It was a triumph that took 20 years to become a reality and was cherished by all, followed by a silver medal four years later.
The Green Shirts even ended twice on the podium at the Champions Trophy (once at second place in 2014, once at third position in 2012) but by then, the disappointment of missing Olympics, World Cup and poor performance overall had changed the scenario at home. Two bronze medals at Asia Cup in 2013 and 2017 went unnoticed and fans who can recognize legendary players from afar don’t even know the names of current players. Some blame the lack of interest from Pakistan Hockey Federation while others claim that the new format doesn’t suit Pakistan; whatever the reason, Pakistan will need a miracle this coming decade if it wants to return to glory in a game where they used to have no equal.
Highlight: Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi ended runner-up at the U.S. Open, both in Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles at the start of the decade.
Rock Bottom: Lack of interest from Pakistan Tennis Federation means Pakistan has to play its home ties abroad.
Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, Pakistan’s number one tennis player and the only one to participate in Grand Slam events began the year by reaching the finals of U.S. Open Tennis, where he and his Men’s double partner Rohan Bopanna (India) and Mixed Doubles partner Květa Peschke (Czech Republic) lost in the grand finale. His speech at the end of the ceremony won him more fans both at home and abroad. However, he couldn’t reach the final of any other event after that. He did win the Paris Masters in 2011 with Bopanna, the Miami Masters in 2013 with Jean-Julien Rojer and reached the Semi Final of the U.S. Open in 2011 and 2012, the French Open Men’s Doubles in 2012, Mixed Doubles at the Roland Garros in 2013 and 2019 and the last four of Mixed Doubles at Wimbledon in 2014 and 2016, but couldn’t recreate the magic of reaching the grand finale again. However, he did interest a lot of youngsters into taking up the game through his book which became a huge hit when it was released.
Highlight: Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif won the IBSF World Snooker Championship in 2012 and 2019; with Babar Masih he claimed the IBSF World 6-Red Team Championship in 2017 and the Asian Team Snooker Championship in 2018. Hamza Akbar won the Asian Snooker Championship in Malaysia in 2015.
Rock Bottom: The cueists complain of lack of interest and support from the Government.
If a sports buff in Pakistan asked to name one sport that had more highs than lows during the last decade, then he would name snooker as that sport. Since the 1990s when Mohammad Yousuf won the World Snooker Championship, snooker has become popular as it doesn’t require any ground or a court; it can be played on a snooker table with the right cues and in a positive frame of mind. During the last 10 years, Pakistan has produced excellent players like Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Sajjad, Hamza Akbar, Babar Masih and Asjad Iqbal who have won international events or reached the final of championships featuring the best cueists from around the world. Be it Hamza Akbar’s triumph in the final of Asian Snooker Championship in 2015 or Mohammad Sajjad’s feat of reaching the final of Asian Snooker Championship in 2010 and 2014, every other year these players tried their best to lighten up the mood in sports-deprived Pakistan. With Asif’s multiple victories at the IBSF World Snooker Championship in 2012 and last month or his successful teaming with Babar Masih that won them a number of events, every victory takes snooker ahead in Pakistan and in the coming days, Pakistan will be known as a land of world-class snooker players, just as it is known for its cricket, hockey and tennis players.
Things might not have gone as per expectations in the last 10 years but there is a huge possibility that the future will be bright. Good things come to those who wait and fans of Pakistani sports have waited for a long time. Youngsters are taking up tennis and snooker where they have local players as idols, and then there is the Pakistan cricket team ending the decade with a sensational victory against Sri Lanka on home ground. Even the national game of hockey is just a victory away from revival and we should hope for the best than stay in the past. With the arrival of the new year and a new decade, things may also change for Pakistan in sports, and we might reign supreme in the coming 10 years.
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