Released right after Pakistan’s unpredictable and historic win against India in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup exactly one week ago, 'Cricket Khidaiye' was the powerful, hard-hitting anthem we needed. It reflects the kind of optimistic, nay invincible, spirit that gripped the nation in the immediate aftermath of the win. It was a timely release. The song, 'Cricket Khidaiye', features one of Pakistan’s most popular singers, Atif Aslam, along with two of the most prominent names in the underground music scene — Faris Shafi and Talal Qureshi.
Finally, Faris Shafi is getting the recognition he deserves. I’ll admit, his inclusion in the latest cricket anthem to come out on the official Coke Studio platform on YouTube came as somewhat of a surprise. But it was what was needed to infuse new blood, new talent and new energy into the sometimes stale, tedious and predictable ‘mainstream’ music scene.
On the song he’s collaborated with longtime friend and producer, Talal Qureshi, who’s also worked with some of the most popular emerging acts to come out of Pakistan’s independent music scene in the last couple of years — Hasan Raheem, Maanu and Zara Paracha, to name a few. Every time Faris Shafi and Talal Qureshi have collaborated together, they’ve created magic. Case in point: classics such as 'Nazar', 'Jawab De' and 'Clap'.
In that respect, 'Cricket Khidaiye' is no different. It just has Atif Aslam added to it. I suspect he was added to give the song a broader appeal with audiences.
Featuring a powerful collaboration between Atif Aslam, Faris Shafi and Talal Qureshi, 'Cricket Khidaiye' is the cricket anthem of the year
The song begins with the all-too-familiar sound of a ball being knocked around by a cricket bat. Then Atif delivers the intro lines in the deepest, lowest key I’ve heard him sing in. He starts off by referencing Pakistan’s T20 World Cup win in 2009: “2009 assi baazi jeeti…[We won the round in 2009]” and ends by asking whose turn it would be in 2021 — ours again? Atif’s voice is unrecognisable and I wouldn’t know it was him if it weren’t for the beautifully filmed music video (directed by Zeeshan Parwez) featuring him at this part.
Cue dramatic, ominous music, supplemented by the brass section, scenes of the stunning cricket stadium in Gwadar, throw in an electronic beat and then Faris is unleashed in the song. Along with Talal Qureshi, pictured in the Gwadar Cricket Stadium set up with fancy lights for this.
Listen closely to Faris’s rapid, yet clear, delivery and you’ll find the song is not just an invitation to a cricket match, but an invitation to play at home in Pakistan — We’ve got the best grounds in the world/ We’ve got the best crowds in the world… We want to see the day that we bring you back.
When Atif comes in and belts out the lyrics showing off his vocal prowess, you realise this song is bigger than a singular match. He’s singing about the spirit of the competition, about this being bigger than just who wins and loses. It’s about the passion, the spirit, about pushing ourselves and doing our very best.
It’s refreshing to have a song where the ‘other’ side isn’t being baited. A song sans innuendos referencing embarrassing moments suffered by the teams or nations participating, a song where sport isn’t being treated as war (even though it absolutely is!).
Atif has clearly tried, but it’s hard to match the energy Faris brings to the song. Faris’s lyrical delivery — clear, swift and strong — descends on you like a giant wave and carries you with it through the song. But Atit grows on me the more I listen to the song. With a catchy beat, movie score-esque dramatic bass section, a thumping percussion set towards the second half, and catchy Punjaby-Urdu-English lyrics, Cricket Khidaiye breathes a fresh new air into the otherwise tedious, stale, almost preachy world of ‘other’ cricket songs.
Cricket Khidaiye is the cricket anthem for our time.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, October 31st, 2021