What will Imam-ul-Haq do when the hate runs out?
See, right now life is easy. The more people that hate on him, the more runs he scores. What will fuel this young man when he gets older and realises that he won't be able to use that hate alone to push his world round; that he won't be able to hold on to that hate alone and drag himself out of bed in the morning; that he won't be able to float through a shitty day on the fumes of that hate? That hate, ultimately, is every bit as draining and complicated as love? And that just like love, it too runs out.
Where will the runs come from then?
You know about this hate. Famous as nephew first, human later, plays because uncle - a legend, former captain, and accidental comedy hero - is now selector. Picked Imam about 18 months ago. For the format in which he wasn't scoring runs. Then picked him in the Test squad and not this hero. Parchi through and through, a nepotism poster boy.
Those of you in the subcontinent know this story. You live in the daily swirl of parchis, these undeserving offspring of politicians, bureaucrats and army generals, all benefiting in ludicrously unmerited ways only because of who they are related to. Maybe you've gotten in on the hating a little bit too. "Parchi", after all, is not just a word - literally, all it is, is a chit of paper. But it's a catch-all cuss, a receipt into a lifestyle for which the dues have not been paid.
Scratch that - it's not even just a cuss. It is a bent system to rail against, a class to envy-hate, a history to scrub out. It carries such resonance in Pakistan that once it has been flung at you, it's you. It's all you are and you'll rarely be anything else. Partly it's because parchis are not just not a myth but because they've been flouncing around for years - like they're claiming their existence is only natural and that this is the right way for a society to operate. And partly because imagining that anyone who isn't losing out is not losing out because he must be a parchi, and it can't possibly be because he deserves it, is easy in a land of such inequality, where there are twice as many slights as there are human beings.
And to be the parchi? Many don't care, skipping through life with that easy carriage of the entitled.
Imam cares. He cares to prove that he isn't what everyone says he is. Everything he does is to prove a point. Don't watch him bat. Watch him in the field. He dives as if with every dive he wants to hurt himself, to show you that he's unafraid of putting his body on the line; and you think he's only here because of genealogy? Except, something always falls off - a hat, the glasses - the shirt rides up awkwardly, and so the comic gene is strong in him.
And rarely does a public appearance pass without him, many times unprompted, snarkily thanking his haters and critics for the runs he is scoring. He used to be fat as a kid and hated cricket, but he did want to be famous, and initially, a model, so you can't ignore those drivers either.
If it leaves you wondering how it is a human being can contain within one body the spirits of Aamer Sohail and Faisal Iqbal then you're not alone. Somehow he does it: the Shane Watson send-off in the PSL final was pure Sohail-Beefy at the MCG in '92, and the victimhood of privilege is all, of course, Iqbal.
How's that hate working out for you, though? Because even if you hate Imam for what you think he represents, it's impossible to ignore the runs he is scoring and what that means, right now, to this Pakistan side.
First, it is a lot of runs. Only the GOAT (don't @me, @statistics), Ross Taylor and Rohit Sharma have scored more runs than him in ODIs and averaged 60 since his debut. Sure, there are a number of ways to slice this this, not least if you strip his record of one record-breaking series against Zimbabwe. It's a valid caveat, although even if you include only the countries he will come up against at this World Cup, he's averaging over 50.
But averages, we learn afresh every day, are no longer the definitive way to look at batsmen in white-ball cricket. And so the figure that stands out is his strike rate over the first ten overs of an innings: at 3.77 runs per over, or 62.83 per 100 balls, it is the second lowest among batsmen who have faced at least 300 balls in the first Powerplay.
There are mitigating factors. Nearly half his games have been in the UAE, where ODI surfaces are still stuck in the '90s and aughts (the runs-per-over figure for the three international UAE grounds in the last decade are all under 5). He also doesn't have the luxury of being English or Indian, so that he can go as he pleases in those early overs, comfortable knowing that those below him will either cover his lapses or just ignore them and go hard anyway.
For now, it is clear he prefers to stabilise early on, especially if wickets are lost, rather than coming at you relentlessly like the insane woodpecker beat of Jonny Bairstow's batting. Like his unbeaten 42 in the recent washout at The Oval, where the loss of Fakhar Zaman - and a genuinely challenging opening spell from Jofra Archer - pushed Imam back. After ten overs there, he was on just 18.
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But he was still there when the game ended, which is half the point: that he does survive. On average, he gets dismissed once every 74 balls of a Powerplay, the third best on that count. Only Quinton de Kock (81.5 balls per dismissal + strike rate of 91 = freak) and Kyle Coetzer (a true outlier at 114.33 balls per dismissal) are ahead of him on that list of batsmen who have faced at least 300 balls in the Powerplay. (Bairstow, incidentally, is a monster: he averages 67.81 balls per dismissal in the Powerplay, and has a strike rate of 117.) Pakistan's batting is in generational flux, but it is still not the worst thing to have an opener who can get through the early sparring and, potentially, build long.
And once he gets through, he does perk up: since his debut his strike rate through the middle overs (11 to 40) is 93, a skyscraperish jump up from the Powerplay. Imam is not Rohit Sharma, inasmuch as nobody is Rohit Sharma other than Rohit Sharma. But as a template to aspire to for tempo change, who better to look at? In that same period, Rohit has gone at just 66.33 in the first ten but 106.2 in the middle. A little more urgency first up could leave a little less pressure on Imam later on.
In actual fact, Imam's true value - as for all good openers - comes through his partnership with Fakhar. The numbers sparkle - only Rohit and Shikhar Dhawan, and Bairstow and Jason Roy have more runs as a pair since Imam's debut. But even acknowledging for the massive dip after discounting some of the easier attacks they have come up against - a 57.68 average opening stand whittled down to 31.63 against England, New Zealand, South Africa and India - get real people: this is Pakistan.
At the last World Cup, they opened with Younis Khan in their first game, which felt like something sides might not have tried at the 1975 World Cup let alone at the 2015 one. Even 2015 England would have scoffed at it. Pakistan tried three different opening combinations in the first five games. In 2011 their opening pairs were Mohammad Hafeez and Ahmed Shahzad, and Mohammad Hafeez and Kamran Akmal. The jokes wrote themselves. In 2007 they had Imran Nazir back after not picking him for nearly three years and then used two combinations in three games. Also, Hafeez and Akmal were the other openers.
Normally stability alone would be a blessing for Pakistan. But to have a fairly successful pairing, and both in form ahead of the tournament - this is uncharted territory for their modern World Cup campaigns. And just as Imam has Rohit to aspire to, so too the partnership could take Dhawan-Rohit as a loose model: one goes hard, the other goes big.
Steady on, though. First, for the next month and a bit, keep that hate coming.