Who would have thought that a team, which till last year was in danger of missing a Champions Trophy berth and which ranked lowest among the eight contesting teams, would go on to become title holders?
This is the Pakistani cricket team, mercurial and unpredictable. Imran Khan’s ‘cornered tigers’. Just when the odds were against them, just when the entire world had written them off, just when many were beginning to doubt their abilities of ever bouncing back, they did.
And they did it with such flamboyance, such flair, that the world’s top-ranked team, South Africa, became the first to fall before them. That the tournament favourites, England, who have been playing the most-ferocious brand of cricket since World Cup 2015, collapsed in front of them. That India, overwhelmingly backed for a third title, could not even put up a fight.
This is the Pakistani cricket team, mercurial and unpredictable
This is a story of a team that is deprived of playing international cricket on home soil, is stacked with players who are yet to play an international match in front of a home crowd; and its most-successful captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, who never got a chance to lead at home.
Perhaps what Sarfraz Ahmed and his men showed on the field at The Oval on June 18 reflects the very nature of Pakistani cricketers – that when pushed to a corner, all odds against them, they roar back. When they lost to India two weeks before the final at Edgbaston on June 4, it was expected they would soon take flights back home.
As their bowling coach Azhar Mahmood put it: “Before the tournament started, we said we will go to London – not to take a flight, but to play in the final. We said the same after losing to India (in the opening match).”
There was belief even after getting thrashed at the hands of India by 124 runs in their tournament opener. Before their campaign for the Champions Trophy began, Sarfraz Ahmed had told his players they had nothing to lose. He repeated it before the final. Ranked eighth, and the world writing them off, what was there to lose? Nothing.
His men responded in a way only they can, and the result was for everyone to see. Perhaps there was something in the body language and the attitude of the players at the nets that former cricketer Ramiz Raja saw that made him willing to bet on his entire cricketing experience that “India cannot beat Pakistan”.
Indian captain Virat Kohli called Pakistan’s victory an “upset”. It was anything but. Upsets in cricket happens once in a big line of matches. Pakistan bulldozing opponents like South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and India, one after another is not an upset. It is continuation of a process. But to be fair to Kohli, in his post-match address he did admit to being outplayed by Pakistan.
The Pakistan cricket team has shown that it can never be written off
The victory in the final should surely be a morale booster, but this in no way means that the problems of Pakistan cricket are over. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) still has a long way to go in ensuring competitive domestic cricket, and especially in reviving school cricket, so that there is a mechanism, a system through which fresh talent keeps coming in.
The haphazardness in the way things are run at the PCB does not paint a promising picture. A complete overhaul of the first-class structure is the need of the hour, with fewer teams and better playing conditions. The Pakistan Super League (PSL) has, after just two editions, given the country promising youngsters such as Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees and Fakhar Zaman to look forward to. A strong domestic set-up would not only strengthen the talent pool in the country, but would also make the PSL more competitive.
The Pakistan cricket team has shown that it can never be written off, and that it has the potential to bounce back and compete with any side in the world. But the inconsistencies seen in their performances is because of a weak domestic structure, which if overhauled, would make them an even more formidable side.