The year 2017 didn’t begin well for Pakistan cricket fans. There was the Pakistan Super League (PSL) spot-fixing scandal which took the sheen out of the T20 league in the UAE. There was also the disastrous tour of the antipodes. The team also said goodbye to two of the country’s greatest batsmen – Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. The first half of the year was pretty forgettable with Pakistan suffering one setback after the other. But still many supporters of Pakistan cricket will remember 2017 as annus mirabilis for one single reason: the national team won the ICC Champions Trophy for the first time. Not just that. The way Pakistan toyed with their arch-rivals India in the final on their way to a stunning 180-run triumph in the final made it an amazing year for the fans.
It’s surprising how one single performance can outweigh below-par showings of the past. But that’s what happened when Sarfraz Ahmed masterminded an unbelievable turnaround for his team in the Champions Trophy, especially after Pakistan were thrashed in their opening game of the tournament by the Indians. Luck, as they say, favours the brave. The Pakistanis were lucky as they were helped by the DLS method in their win against world number one South Africa. They overcame Sri Lanka in a thriller, which could have gone either way to reach the last four against all odds. But the script changed after that. The Pakistanis left nothing to chance as they stunned hosts England in a one-sided semifinal and later in the final, the Indians didn’t know what hit them.
It’s tempting to remember 2017 as the year when Pakistan pulled off a Houdini act to win the coveted Champions Trophy. But on the flipside, there were several developments which should be a big cause for concern. The PSL spot-fixing scandal for one refused to die down. Pakistan’s Test fortunes tumbled which was sad considering that they had climbed to the top of the rankings in 2016. With Younis and Misbah out of the equation, things look pretty gloomy for Pakistan in the longest format of the game. Pakistan will have to look for ways and means to fill the gaping holes in their Test squad. When Younis and Misbah announced their retirements, there was hope that the likes of Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali will step forward to make sure that Pakistan do not miss Mis-You. But that didn’t happen. With Younis and Misbah not there with their rescue acts, Pakistan were beaten 2-0 by a Sri Lankan team that was supposed to be mere pushovers for Sarfraz and his men.
Pakistan’s ODI and T20 fortunes were much better in 2017 but that would be put to a big test when they play in-form New Zealand in a limited-over series next month.
If the high point for Pakistan in 2017 was, by far, their Champions Trophy triumph then their best performer of the year was, again by far, Hasan Ali. The young fast bowler, who was ridiculed by a section of the media when he first came to the team, was phenomenal during the year as he revived memories of Waqar Younis with his breathtaking ability to take wickets at will. Since making his international debut in 2016, Hasan has emerged as one of the world’s best bowlers in the 50-over format. He has taken 63 wickets from 29 matches across formats this year – at an average of 18.85. He was at his best in the Champions Trophy with 13 wickets from five matches making him the Player of the Tournament.
Whenever I do a year-ender on Pakistan sports, especially hockey I remember 1994 which was perhaps the first time I was asked to do a year-end review. It was perhaps one of the best years in the history of Pakistan sports. Pakistan were already the reigning world champions in cricket, having won the World Cup held in Australia and New Zealand back in 1992. Jansher Khan was the reigning world champion in squash as he continued to run roughshod over his rivals following the retirement of his compatriot Jahangir Khan. Pakistan also won the world snooker title in 1994 with Mohammad Yousuf reigning supreme in the world amateur snooker championship in South Africa. And perhaps most importantly, 1994 was the year when Pakistan woke up from their hockey slumber to regain the coveted World Cup in Australia.
But it seems that I’m talking about some other life, perhaps even some parallel universe. 2017 was yet another disappointing year for Pakistan hockey. Despite the fact that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) continued with its bid to lift the game, things didn’t really improve for Pakistan hockey during the year. Over the year, Pakistan hockey has experienced a major slump and it is quite evident that only a long, concerted campaign can put the sport back on track in our country. The PHF will have to take concrete, long-term steps to revive our hockey. The federation will have to bring in foreign coaches/trainers because it is apparent that our experts lack the skills and knowledge to revive the fortunes of our under-achieving players.
2018 should begin on a positive note for Pakistan hockey as there are plans to bring international action back to the country with the visit of a World XI.
There wasn’t anything positive for Pakistan squash in 2017 with the sport showing little or no signs of a revival. As usual, Pakistan’s top players flopped miserably in major international events including the World Team Championships in France in November where the national team was even thrashed by minnows Switzerland. Players like Farhan Mehboob and Amir Atlas Khan continued to punch below their weight. The Pakistan Squash Federation (PSF) continued to grope in the dark hoping that the same, old failed methods will finally produce better results. Since the halcyon days of Jahangir and Jansher, the PSF has tried and failed in its campaign to revive the glory days of the great Khans. But things have only gone from bad to worse for Pakistan squash. The federation will need to rethink its strategy otherwise 2018 is going to be no different.