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Supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan, who blocked the entrance routes to capital Islamabad in protest against the gun attack on their leader, watch the T20 World Cup Semi Final cricket match, between New Zealand and Pakistan. Photo: EPA-EFE

Pakistan’s political divisions set aside as cricket-mad nation unites for T20 World Cup Final vs England

  • Political divisions will be set aside as fans will cheer for players that ‘represent the Pakistan flag and not a party flag’ during Sunday’s final vs England
  • Even a march calling for early elections by ex-prime minister Imran Khan – who is himself a cricket legend – will probably be wiped off the front pages
Pakistanis say they will set aside the deep political differences which divide the populous nation of 225 million people for the next few days to support their national cricket team in the final of the T20 Cricket World Cup against England in Melbourne on Sunday.
Having cruised to a seven-wicket victory against fancied New Zealand on Tuesday, millions of Pakistanis were glued to their screens on Wednesday to see who they would face in the title contest.
The result set up a repeat of the 1992 One-Day Cricket World Cup Final between England and a Pakistan team led by Imran Khan, whose victory boosted his popularity to levels which ultimately culminated in his becoming prime minister in 2018.
Having been removed from office by a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April, and narrowly surviving an assassination attempt on November 3, Khan is expected to lead thousands of supporters into Islamabad on or around the day of the final, in a bid to force the government to call a snap general election.
When it comes to cricket, the whole nation unites and forgets about politics and politicians
Akbar Momand, sporting business executive
But his campaign will be forced on to the back foot until after the game, and for several days longer if Pakistan wins, fans told This Week In Asia.

“When it comes to cricket, the whole nation unites and forgets about politics and politicians. It’s quite interesting to see how helpless and left out the politicians feel that day because it’s for once not about them!” said Akbar Momand, a fitness and sporting business executive based in Islamabad.

Even if the Pakistan players somehow represented different political parties instead of different parts of the country, “we would still support them as they represent the Pakistan flag and not a party flag,” said Dawood Kakar, a chartered accountant from Karachi.

Most fans active on social media had fancied a final against India, with which Pakistan has fought several wars since the neighbours became independent in August 1947.
They wanted revenge after India beat Pakistan in a last-ball thriller on October 23, the opening day of the T20 World Cup.
Pakistan supporters celebrate after their win over New Zealand during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 Semi Final. Photo: EPA-EFE

But they are just as happy to troll Indians after their superstar team were steamrollered in the second semi-final by an ominous looking England team on Wednesday

Ex-Indian cricketer Irfan Pathan, man of the match in his team’s 2007 T20 World Cup Final victory against Pakistan, riled up Pakistani fans after their semi-final win against the Kiwis’ by accusing them of celebrating in a distasteful manner.

“Neighbours, victories come and go, but you are incapable of being graceful,” Pathan said, in a Twitter post.

So when England’s opening batters Alex Hales and Jos Butler chased down the target set by India without losing a wicket on Wednesday, setting a tournament record in the process, Pakistan’s notorious memesters let rip at Pathan.

Most sarcastically asked him if India’s 10-wicket defeat – the largest margin possible – was gracious.

Even Pakistan’s mild-mannered prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, got into the act on Twitter, describing the final between England and Pakistan as a contest between sides who have inflicted 10-wicket defeats on India in successive T20 World Cups.
Pakistan beat India by that margin in the opening match of last year’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

Some Indian fans even said they would support Pakistan against their common former colonial master England in the final because they admired Pakistani players.

Young Pakistani bowlers like Naseem Shah and Mohammed Wasim “have not come from money and worked really hard to get where they are and have shown a lot of heart, so I hope they do well,” said Krish Singh Rathore, an agribusiness owner from Delhi.

But Rathore said he was no fan of “some ex-Pakistan cricketers who keep spouting anti-India nonsense” on TV. “Had they been playing, I’d want them to lose!” he laughed.

But none of Pakistan’s fans expect a prospective world cup victory to bring down their country’s soaring political temperatures for long.

Pakistan is “too politically polarised to keep aside the differences”, said Momin Hassan Khan, a researcher living in Islamabad. A win for Pakistan in the final against England “might change the mood for a few days”, but public euphoria would dissipate quickly, he said.

A loss to England, on the other hand, “will be forgotten in a day to focus on our national sport: politics,” Khan said.