There is something exotically charming about triumph in adversity. Since time immemorial we have been told astonishing feats of underdogs, who emerged victorious against the toughest of adversaries in the most trying conditions. David's victory over Goliath soon became the ultimate story of the underdog emerging triumphant against a stronger opponent. Nothing perhaps encapsulates this incredible triumph of the human spirit better in life than sport, in this case being cricket. It is the type of allure that draws in support from neutrals irrespective of nationality.
In part two of the finest cricketing moments of 2010, we look at two underdogs, who stood up against all odds to triumph over their more powerful adversaries.
Mohammad Aamer blows Australia away
The Pakistan cricket team has always been considered superbly talented but unpredictable by outsiders. The insiders know the unpredictable tag comes from poor administration, poor first class structure and lack of institutions in cricket. The great Imran Khan repeatedly stressed even during Pakistan's best victories and strongest teams that the talent on display was despite the system, not because of it.
No other team has demonstrated that to Pakistan better than Australia. Pakistan last won against Australia in a dead rubber in 1995. Since then, they were whitewashed in every series from 1999 onwards till 2009. Through each crushing defeat, Australia instilled it in every Pakistani's heart that while the talent despite the system might be good enough for other teams, even for a World Cup, it would not be good enough against Australia at test level. It is Australia that has time and again stomped their foot on Pakistan and exposed the frailties and inadequacies in their system, that would otherwise remain well camouflaged by the talent and promise and sporadic victories.
So powerful was the stranglehold of Australia over Pakistan that despite having a lead of over 200 runs in Sydney earlier this year, Pakistan gifted the match to Australia. So powerful was the dominance that it allowed losing captain Mohammad Yousuf to remark after the white-wash that since better Pakistani teams with big players had been white-washed, his team losing was no big deal. So when Pakistan were playing Australia in a 'home' series in England in July, everyone expected a 0-2 result.
It was 0-1 after the first test, and Pakistan looked down and out heading to Leeds for the second test. Their captain for the first test, Shahid Afridi, brought out of retirement by the cricket board quickly announced his retirement again, citing his inability to handle the pressure of test cricket. Such was the mental stranglehold of Australia over Pakistan. So when after the first day the score card read Australia 88, Pakistan 148/3, many found themselves questioning whether what they were seeing was real or a dream. The Australian top order were completely annihilated by Pakistan's opening bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer. In overcast conditions, Australia opted to bat first against two of the best bowlers in the world - one, the tall seam bowler Asif, known for his immaculate line and length, control and movement off the seam and one, the 18 year old left arm swing bowler Aamer, described by Imran Khan as 'streets ahead of Wasim Akram'.
Together they joined hands to produce one of the finest displays of swing and seam bowling in recent times. In the end, the Pakistani batsmen huffed and puffed their way on Day 4 to a 3 wicket victory, chasing 180 with Umar Gul hitting the winnings runs but the victory was set on the first day itself by their opening bowlers. David had finally stood up to Goliath and made his presence felt, Pakistan had finally beaten Australia in a test match in 15 years, It had given the beleaguered cricketing nation to make a point to the world that talents like Mohammad Aamer are not produced by the best first class systems in the world, they are born in Pakistan.
Tamim Iqbal puts his name on the Lord's honour boards, and also the honour of his country in the process.
Bangladesh is the worst ranked team in the world with the worst history of defeats. After every series defeat, their test status is questioned. Every test series they play, one cannot help but notice the hesitance of the opposition, to play against these school boys when they could very well be relaxing. In January 2010, when India toured Bangladesh, their stand in captain Virender Sehwag said quite nonchalantly that Bangladesh were an ordinary side incapable of being able to compete with India, the number 1 side. So when Bangladesh toured England in May for the second time since attaining test status, the cricketing world naturally did not take it too seriously.
The end result of 0-2 on paper perhaps does gross injustice to one man - Tamim Iqbal. Tamim burst into the scene more than 3 years ago when he tore into the Indian openings bowlers in a World Cup match and helped his team register a shock victory over their stronger neighbours, effectively ending India's World Cup journey.
Since then, Tamim had shown glimpses of his immense talent from time to time, one of them being an important 85 against England at home in early 2010, a knock during which he smashed their premier spinner Graeme Swann for 20 runs in an over.
But his critics have often chastised him for throwing it away after good starts, his admirers on the other hand have praised him for getting good starts in a team where getting good starts is considered rare.
In the first test match at Lord's, England amassed 505 and Bangladesh were bundled out for 282 and set to follow on. In walked Tamim Iqbal, after scoring a 55 and throwing it away in the first innings.
He was up against James Anderson, one of the best swing bowlers in the world playing in his own back yard and Graeme Swann, considered by many to be best spin bowler in the world today and Tim Bresnan and Steve Finn, the bowling attack that has just helped England retain the Ashes. Tamim edged, slashed, hooked, pulled, cut, drove and smashed the English bowlers with disdain in a blistering knock of 103 from 100 balls.
I do not know if the Bangladeshi players feel intimidated playing at the highest level, I do not know whether they consider themselves schoolboys playing against men. But as the 21 year old tore and dispatched the English bowlers to various parts of Lords, it was clear to me that this young man who has talked of his desire to end his test career with a batting average of 50 plus like the Tendulkars and Laras had no fear. Bangladesh did lose the match but I doubt anyone can question the standard of play in an 8 wicket victory for England.
People familiar with Bangladesh cricket are aware of another promising youngster, who has often flattered to deceive - Mohammad Ashraful with his consistent inconsistency. So it was only natural to be wary of the new kid on the block but he was not finished as yet as he allayed those fears in style with another blistering century at Old Trafford in the second test. His twin explosive knocks against the English attack that has just retained the Ashes in Australia and his words after the collapse that followed his century 'Personally it was great, but the team matters. We didn't play well after a solid start so I'm not that happy' sums up a man possessed not only of immense talent but also insatiable hunger, a deadly combination for a sportsman.
Bangladesh and Pakistan are two nations of well over 150 million people each who make the news for terrorism, corruption, political instability or floods. What these two youngsters were able to present to their respective nations was not merely simple sporting achievements. They were able to present to their beleaguered nations an opportunity to smile and rejoice despite the ill fortune and apocalyptic predictions. It was the victory of David against Goliath, in its truest sense, a true triumph of the human spirit.