Written By: Omair Alavi
Pakistan Cricket Team is one of its kind when it comes to world events – when the chips are down, they are the favorites but when they are the favorites, they usually exit badly. Who can forget the World Cup in 1992 where Imran Khan’s Tigers made a comeback from the verge of being knocked out and clinched the trophy after defeating one of the best sides in the tournament. Twenty-five years later, the same thing happened as Sarfraz Ahmed and his boys managed to win four consecutive matches to take home their first ever Champions Trophy. Was it luck, was it planning, was it due to the Holy month of Ramadan? What helped Pakistan do the unthinkable? Let’s analyze:
Sarfraz and His Courageous Captaincy
Usually when a captain leading his side in a world event loses the first match, all his plans go awry. He tries to win by hook or by crook and that doesn’t necessarily end up as a positive step. However, in case of Sarfraz Ahmed, things ended up pretty much the way he envisioned and since he and his boys gave their 100 percent, he ended up with the trophy and becoming the World Champions.
There were occasions when Sarfraz grip on the situation loosened especially in the grand finale, such as making Fakhar Zaman bowl, continuing with Shadab Khan when any pacer would have knocked the Indians out and sending Imad Wasim ahead of himself at the crucial stage. Come to think of it, he was sending messages through these decisions to the selectors – that Imad Wasim can’t bat and bowl when the situation demands, Fakhar might become an all-rounder and that Shadab still has a lot to learn.
The Resurgence of Hasan Ali
A year back, had someone predicted that Hasan Ali will end up as the leading wicket-taker of Champions Trophy, people would have laughed at that person. In the last 12 months, he has not only made a place for himself in the final XI of all formats but has also defeated the ‘leftist’ mindset that was prevalent in the selection committee. They continued to use one-dimensional pacers irrespective of conditions and that's one of the reasons why Pakistani pacers weren't taken seriously by opponents. Not anymore as the biggest export of Pakistan Super League has now become a threat with his variety of deliveries. With 13 wickets in 5 matches, including the prized scalps of world’s best batsmen, Hasan Ali helped Pakistan become the Champions from rock bottom position, literally. His celebration style has also become popular amongst the fans that include commentators, opposing players and well-wishers at home.
The Record-making Fakhar Zaman
No Pakistani since the great Majid Khan in World Cup 1975 had hit 3 consecutive scores of 50 or above in an ICC event, till Fakhar Zaman hit 2 half centuries and one match-winning century against India in the Champions Trophy. Unlike his predecessors that go back 15 years, Fakhar has a flair that reminds one of Saeed Anwar and to some extent of Aamer Sohail. He likes to score runs than play a dot ball and that mindset is what Pakistan was missing. Move over Ahmed Shehzad; step aside Awais Zia; Fakhar Zaman is here to stay. His ascent to the top order must be highlighted as the most important step in Pakistan’s success story. Not only did he rattle the opposition fast bowlers in the process of making a name for himself, he was equally efficient against spinners, notably Jadeja-Ashwin duo that remained clueless in the grand finale.
Everyone is congratulating Inzamam-ul-Haq led selection committee for sending players who went on to win the trophy for Pakistan. What they don’t realize is that all these players were selected as backups and wouldn’t have played had India not thrashed Pakistan in the first match of the tournament. Umar Akmal repeated history by being sent back from a tour just like father-in-law Abdul Qadir in the 80s – Qadir was sent back on disciplinary grounds from Australia while Umar on lacking the required fitness. How Umar managed to clear the fitness test days after being declared 'super unfit' remains a mystery but when you have Inzamam-ul-Haq judging fitness, the answer is as clear as day. The former captain had never been fit his entire career and once even asked coach Javed Miandad to exclude him from training in exchange for a 100 the other day – he managed 80 odd runs in the next Test against England, twice! With Umar Akmal’s return to Pakistan and Sarfraz XI winning the event, one thing is sure – the door of a comeback for this Akmal is closed, this time for good.
Dropping Crucial Catches
Catches win matches; but did you know that some catches even win tournaments – Sarfraz Ahmed got reprieved off by Lasith Malinga in the all-crucial league match against Sri Lanka and made the most of it by winning the match for his country. Had that catch been held, the tables may have reversed and Pakistan might have been on its way back home, rather than moving into the semi-final and later the final. Similarly, had Fakhar Zaman’s catch not been held by Jadeja in the grand finale, Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez might not have scored quickly, considering the centurion was getting tired with every passing over. Indeed, catches do win matches!
Bumrah – The New Sharma!
Then there are a few catches that are held but not held at the same time – just like the 1992 World Cup in which Ramiz Raja was declared ‘not out’ off a waist-high no-ball, Fakhar Zaman was caught behind off a front-foot no-ball bowled by Jasprit Bumrah 25 years later. The error ranks on top with Chetan Sharma’s failed Yorker in the final of the Austral-Asia Cup in 1986 and cost India the match as Fakhar Zaman went on to score a century that helped Pakistan post 338 for the loss of 4 wickets in 50 overs. Yes, solid batting from Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam helped as well but had that Bumrah-ball been a legal one, India might have had the upper hand. Who knows!
Luck Favours the Brave
As far as one can remember, the last time Pakistan played an ODI match in a ‘positive and aggressive’ manner was way back in 2008 when they defeated India in the final of Kitply Cup under Shoaib Malik. Nine years later, Pakistan managed to play positively and saw India lose by the biggest ever margin of 180 runs. The Indian medium pacers and spinners were treated as mediocre bowlers which they proved to be in conditions that resembled any place but India. Ravichandran Ashwin looked like a different bowler with the white ball as he was belted across the park, as was Ravi Jadeja who proved to be unlucky for his own team as he first couldn’t deliver the goods with the ball, and later ran out the Indian nation’s only hope Hardik Pandya. Pakistan managed to play like tigers and we all know that when that happens, we usually end up lifting the Cup!