In terms of cricketing quality, last night’s T20I between Pakistan and the West Indies left much to be desired. Pakistan motored to a score of 203 with unassuming ease. There were no undue risks or obvious dashes of quality, but the jet-lagged West Indian bowling and fielding outfit let a hungry Pakistan team run them ragged. In response, the West Indians, who at this point looked like they had little interest in being there, subsided for a nominal total of 60, evidently lacking the players who had elected not to travel to Pakistan.

Not that the crowd at Karachi cared. They roared in rapt approval of every boundary, every wicket, and the stadium exuded an unmistakable hum through the match which provided it with the atmosphere of a much better game. Even as the West Indies collapsed and the match was evidently over, not a soul seemed to leave the stadium. They had waited long enough. This was their night to celebrate, to forget everything that had gone wrong in the past and look forward to a brighter future.

It is often said that Indian cricket is strong when Mumbai cricket is strong. Well, international cricket is strong when the Pakistan team is strong. While they have kept their heads high and their noses out of scandal in their years of exile in the UAE, there was always a sense that Pakistan and the wider cricketing community were missing out on something special.

Now, the journey back to normalized cricket in Pakistan is well underway. Even as Pakistan had displayed confidence playing in the UAE, they had never carried themselves with the swagger they did last night. This wasn’t just cricket; there was a sense of performance art about it. The crowd egged on a red-hot Mohammed Amir with fervor which reminded one of Shoaib Akhtar running in off his long run with forty thousand chanting for him. Fakhar Zaman carved the bowling like he was the second coming of Saeed Anway.

The India-Pakistan rivalry, last year’s Champions Trophy Final notwithstanding, has swung firmly in India’s favor in the last few years. While it may take a few years and the resolution of conflicts outside sport, the true cricketing romantics know that nothing could reignite the rivalry like a full Indian tour. After last night, that sounds more tantalizing than ever.

Image: Pakistan Cricket Board

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