Sutanu Guru

When the Pakistan cricket team was brutally bludgeoned into submission by India in the ongoing World Cup, some idiotic fans of Pakistan (that includes “liberal” Indians) blamed a hostile “Hindutva” crowd and chants of Jai Shri Ram for the humiliating defeat. The Pakistan team got a lot of crowd support in Bengaluru a few days late but were hammered by Australia.

The real shocker came later when Afghanistan effortlessly chased down the reasonably high target set by Pakistan. Before this, Pakistan had never lost to Afghanistan. Cricket crazy fans are doing permutations and combinations to see if Pakistan can still stay alive in this World Cup.

But that’s not the point. The pathetic display by this Pakistan team is not something that has suddenly happened in isolation. It merely reflects the state of society, polity and economy in that benighted country. When everything else is going to hell and worse and when people are dying in stampedes for food, it would be a modern-day miracle for a sports team from that country to do consistently well.

Never doubt, the Pakistan cricket team has been one of the best in the world for many decades. They still have amazing talent. But their country is sinking. Cricket players are human beings and cannot be living in cocooned bubbles. There is bound to be some psychological impact on players when they realise their beloved country is going through an existential crisis and there is nothing that they can do.

Don’t for a moment think that this World Cup performance is an aberration. Prior to this Pakistan also “hosted” the Asia Cup for cricket. Schedules and venues had to be hastily revised as the Indian cricket team bluntly refused to travel to Pakistan to play cricket. In fact, barring international or regional level tournaments like the Asia Cup, India has not played cricket with Pakistan since 2012.

Talks and terror can’t go together; cricket & terror can’t go together too. Anyways, even in the Asia Cup, not only was Pakistan hammered by India, it ended as the fourth-place team out of six that included Nepal.

And its not just cricket. In the recently organised Asian Games in China, India inflicted a humiliating 10-2 defeat on Pakistan in their hockey match. For decades, Pakistan had been the superior team in hockey, regularly beating a hapless India. But those glory days for Pakistan seem to have evaporated. The cricket humiliation looms larger than the hockey one because both India and Pakistan are cricket crazy nations.

Many in Pakistan had argued when India refused to play there that Pakistan should have boycotted the tournament and then refused to travel to India to play the World Cup. The problem is money. Pakistan is so desperately short of money that self respect and dignity have to take a back seat. The BCCI is the richest cricket body in the world and its money virtually runs global cricket.

The PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) is now perpetually short of money and cannot survive if BCCI switches off the tap. So grumble, yell, protest and fume, but at the end of the day, beggars cannot be choosers.

And like the PCB, Pakistan as a country has literally become a beggar. Since 2022, the economy of Pakistan has been in free fall. The reason is simple: chronic political instability, the complete absence of decent infrastructure and the scourge of daily terror attacks has encouraged major businesses to shut shop and flee. Ironically, the top textile and readymade garments tycoons of Pakistan have located their factories to Bangladesh!

When you don’t make anything worthwhile as a country, you can’t export much. But you are now hopelessly dependent not just on oil & gas imports but also food imports. Sooner or later, you run out of dollars to pay for your imports.

In one year, the value of the Pakistani Rupee against the US dollar cashed from Rs 100 to Rs 300. Pakistan has already been begging for financial aid from friendly benefactors like China, Saudi Arabia and UAE. But there is a limit to which they can keep giving alms.

The IMF has recently approved an aid package and released some funds that have just about prevented Pakistan from officially going bankrupt. But citizens of Pakistan are paying a heavy and brutal price because of the tough conditions imposed by IMF.

Things are so bad that Lower middle-class families are committing suicide after getting electricity bills of Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 a month; an amount higher than their monthly income. The living ones cannot afford to commute to work on their two wheelers as petrol is about Rs 320 per litre. It’s a miracle that folks in Pakistan are taking time off from their existential problems to follow cricket.

It was not so in the past. For three decades beginning the 1980s, the Pakistani economy and sports teams performed better than India. Pakistan invested those three decades of relative success obsessed with hitting, bleeding and tormenting India with terror attacks. It is Pakistanis who chose their national priorities. It is Pakistanis who are paying the price now.

(Author has been a media professional for over 3 decades. He is now Executive Director, C Voter Foundation. Views are Personal)