VILLAINS one day, heroes the other. They are world cricket’s most unique phenomenon — the Pakistan team.

Once described by former England skipper Mike Atherton as the most predictably unpredictable outfit in the game, the Pakistanis have only one mystery to unravel: themselves.

And one doesn’t need to look any further than the ongoing World Twenty20 to marvel at the fluctuating fortunes that the green shirts have a knack of cultivating. Put to the sword one day by a Shakib-inspired Bangladesh like a bunch of schoolboys tossing up to a springboard, they make an all-conquering Shane Watson grope like a rabbit ushered into broad daylight from its pit of darkness. They stunned the formidable Proteas with a most incredible turnaround that sultry Friday afternoon, only to crash like nine pins to a listless India on Sunday night.

But they held back the biggest surprise for the fearsome Aussies, outplaying them in a do-or-die battle to boost their prospects for a place in the last four.

More often than not, it has appeared that the Pakistanis are struggling to put their act together. In reality, though, they are displaying their ‘natural’ game, the only way they have always been known to play their game.

Off the field, too, they are up against so many pull-down factors of their own creation that they hardly need any outside perils to threaten their smooth flight to the top. Wrong selection, internal wrangling, stinking team management full of control freaks and a hostile media ready to tear them apart makes them a beleaguered side right from the start of any competitive series or tournament.

Frankly speaking, no team in the entire cricketing world is confronted by so many challenges, day in, day out. The fact that Pakistan still manage to earn so many laurels around the world, produce such wonderful match-winners as the wily Saeed Ajmal and the prodigal Raza Hasan, continue to excite fans and experts of the game with belligerent hitters like Nasir Jamshed and Umar Akmal speaks volumes for the abundance of talent waiting to be tapped.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan have become the only side ever to make the semi-finals of all the four Twenty20 World Cups. They have overcome the odds, tamed the best and dismayed millions by losing to arch-rivals India. They have excelled and they have faltered. But they have not disappointed the nation. They have given it hope and happiness in these times of doom and gloom.

Luck favours the brave, says an adage and the South Africa- result has indeed been favourable. Whether Hafeez & Co beat Sri Lanka in the semis on Thursday and then go on to lift the title or lose it, they have done immeasurable service to mankind by shifting the focus from terrorism to cricket.