By Mohammad Sohail Ali
After witnessing decade’s long war against terrorism, Pakistani nation was looking for something big to cheer and finally it happened as the Pakistan cricket team, under young skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, won its maiden ICC Champions Trophy title and accomplished a rare-feat which the Pakistan’s cricket lovers were dreaming since long.
The success which brought back smile to the nation has re-established Pakistan’s name as a powerhouse of cricket, given the fact that no international cricket is taking place for almost a decade in the country owing to security concerns.
Bottom-ranked Pakistan’s Champions Trophy title victory turned out to be more significant because Pakistan outplayed arch-rivals Indian cricket team who were among title favourites in the grand event by a huge margin of 180 runs. Pakistan team recorded their historic title victory on 22nd Ramazan-ul-Mubarak and provided their countrymen an ideal gift before Eid-ul-Fitr.
Pakistan launched the ICC Champions Trophy campaign on an unimpressive note when they suffered a 124-run thrashing at the hands of India before they bounced back to defeat South Africa by 19 runs, Sri Lanka by three wickets and England by eight wickets in the semifinal.
The outstanding victory of national cricket team in the final of ICC Champions Trophy has definitely given a new identity and respect to Pakistan cricket besides elevating the confidence of the team members sky-high.
Pakistan’s young side proved all predictions wrong and won the coveted title from a position of nowhere. This victory will help serve the cause of cricket at home where international cricket has not been played for the past several years.
Sarfraz’s ICC Champions Trophy-winning team includes some of the finest and most attractive cricketers of this generation. Young players like Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and Hassan Ali impressed through their talent and performances in the elite ICC event.
Sarfraz’s rational captaincy
Sarfraz’s sensible captaincy and Mickey Arthur’s professional coaching also played key role in Pakistan’s morale-boosting title victory. Several leading cricket critics do portray the Champions Trophy victory as a wonderful demonstration of team work. It’s true that every member of the team and coaching staff offered equally valuable contribution throughout the tournament.
Sarfraz is also credited for an amazing transformation which Pakistan went through after losing their opening match to India by a big difference of 124 runs. After such a big loss, Pakistan regrouped remarkably and went on to win the tournament for the first time in their history.
After reaching Pakistan, skipper Sarfraz has admitted several times that his team’s confidence was shattered a bit after the big loss in the opening game against India but timely motivation from PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan, Chief Selector, Inzamamul Haq and Team Management helped them a lot in managing to regain their fighting spirit for the next crucial matches.
Reward for young skipper
As reward for winning the fabulous Champions Trophy, Sarfraz was elevated to the post of Pakistan’s Test team captain following the retirement of long-serving veteran Misbah-ul-Haq in May this year. Misbah capped his illustrious career as Pakistan’s most successful Test Captain with 26 victories in 56 matches.
Sarfraz, who has never captained Pakistan in Tests but his track record, has been exceptionally good in ODI and T20 formats. In nine ODIs so far, Pakistan have registered 7 wins while in T20s, Pakistan have won 7 out of 8 matches under his leadership. Sarfraz will now demonstrate his captaincy skills in the longer version format and will help Pakistan rebuild a strong Test side.
It’s Sarfraz’s sensible captaincy due to which he was preferred over India’s established skipper Virat Kohli to lead the ICC’s Champions Trophy XI. Sarfraz was chosen as the captain following his inspirational leadership during the 18-day tournament. Three Indians including Virat Kohli, were named in the ICC Team of the Champions Trophy with Sarfraz Ahmed as its captain, a day after his side’s triumphant campaign. The side includes four Pakistanis, three Indians, three Englishmen and one Bangladeshi, with Kane Williamson of New Zealand as 12th man.
PSL’s role in great victory
An analysis showed that Pakistan T20 league PSL also had a big role in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy victory. Pakistan, like India, Australia, England, West Indies and Bangladesh got several young talented players after the first two editions of Pakistan Super League (PSL) and those young stars offered incredible performances and played a decisive role in Champions Trophy triumph. Pakistan found true match-winners like Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Hassan Ali, fast bowler Usman Khan Shinwari, Asif Zakir and Usman Salahuddin after just two editions of PSL.
It’s quite obvious that Pakistan will get plenty of potential players in future through the platform of PSL and PCB will have to play a true parental role to shield the raw but finest cricketing talent. The PCB must implement strict code of conduct to safeguard the young talented cricketers from menaces like match-fixing, spot-fixing and doping etc. The PCB should also arrange regular workshops, seminars and lectures to make the young cricketers aware of destructive consequences of match-fixing, spot-fixing and doping etc.
Resemblance with 1992 World Cup triumph
It is interesting to note that Pakistan’s Champions Trophy victory had great resemblance with 1992 World Cup triumph. On both the occasions, nobody expected Pakistan to come through their group stage forget the semifinal and final.
In 1992 World Cup, Imran Khan led a team which had a nice blend of experience and raw talent that ended up making the difference. Sarfraz’s team wasn’t too different. Who can forget Wasim Akram’s sizzling spell in the title clash against England in Melbourne and now Mohammad Amir did the same in the latest version of title victory. Both the left armers took three wickets apiece in their respective final encounters.
Pakistan batted first in both 1992 and 2017 finals. In 1992, opener Ramiz Raja was out on a No ball by Derek Pringle and in 2017 opener Fakhar Zaman also got out on a No ball by Jasprit Bumrah. Amazingly, 2017 Champions Trophy and 1992 World Cup final matches were played on 22nd Ramazan.
Only one English player Neil Fairbrother made 50 in 1992 final and in 2017 Indian player Hardik Pandya was the only one to cross the 50-run mark in final. In the 1992 World Cup, New Zealand was undefeated in their first seven games. However, in their last league game, they lost by seven wickets to Pakistan. The teams clashed again in the semifinal and Pakistan won by four wickets to enter the final.
In this Champions Trophy 2017, England was the only undefeated team in the tournament. However, Pakistan pulled off a major surprise as they thrashed the hosts to knock them out.
Fakhar Zaman’s interesting story
Fakhar Zaman, who hammered an explosive knock against India in the Champions Trophy final, had an interesting story to narrate about his childhood and cricket passion. Fakhar was once banned from playing cricket in his village and even beaten by his brothers quite frequently due to his cricket passion. Fakhar said he had devoted most of his time to cricket as a child but had never dreamt of playing beyond club level.
The dashing stroke player wanted to be a navy commando. “Joining the Pakistan Navy was the biggest turning point in my career,” he said. After being recruited as a sailor, Fakhar appeared in a forces tournament where navy coach spotted his talent immediately and encouraged him to quit the armed forces to focus on cricket. The coach said, ‘You can play cricket at a high level,’ Fakhar recalled.
After that he played in domestic tournaments for five years but it was his performance with the Lahore Qalandars in Pakistan Super League T20 tournament that prompted national selectors to take notice of his exceptional talent. Fakhar got his first cap when he was included in the national T20 side for Pakistan’s West Indies tour in March this year.
He scored only 26 runs in two innings but it was enough to earn a place in the Champions Trophy squad. When regular opener Ahmed Shahzad failed to deliver in Pakistan’s opening game against India, Fakhar had his chance.
He grabbed it with both hands, scoring a valuable 31 in his debut game, two half-centuries in the following two matches and the century in the final to guide Pakistan to their historic victory. After the Champions Trophy, Pakistan’s newest star has expressed his intention to serve the national team for a long time.
Celebration of Pak cricket lovers
After the final victory, the streets of Lahore and other major cities were filled with people till the wee hours with blaring horns and drums. Pakistan cricket lovers put up big screens at various places across all cities, especially for the nerve-wrecking final against India. It is pertinent to mention here that cricket fans in Pakistan aren’t used to celebrate much in recent times. The 2009 World T20 crown under Younis Khan was Pakistan’s last World Cup victory.
Upon reaching home, Pakistan fans welcomed their heroes whole heartedly. They reached the airports in their respective cities to welcome young world beaters. Thousands gathered in streets to welcome and celebrate with the champions and catch a glimpse of the trophy that came home for the first time.