Turnarounds, it is often said, happen when you learn to thrive despite the adversity. That’s what Pakistan’s nomadic cricket team has done. It has somehow managed to not just keep its head above water despite the adversity but to actually swim against the tide. At the Champions Trophy nobody gave Pakistan a chance, especially after their shambolic showing in the Edgbaston game against India at the start of the eight-nation tournament. Nobody in their right minds could have predicted what followed after that 124-run thrashing.
Even the most ardent of Pakistan’s fans would not have actually believed that the team will pick itself up and then go on to win the next four games on the trot to win the coveted Champions Trophy for the first time since the tournament’s inception back in 1998. On the way to the title, Pakistan – placed at the bottom of the table at the start of the tournament — floored world number one South Africa, Sri Lanka, hosts England finally defending champions India in the title.
The title-winning triumph revived memories of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup victory. In many ways, this month’s win in England was even more surprising then the Melbourne crown 25 years ago. Back then, Pakistan began the World Cup in the antipodes as one of the top teams in international cricket. They had big stars like Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram. The reason why their ascent to the knockout stage of the event seemed almost impossible was because of their disastrous start in the tournament and not due to the team’s weaknesses.
Sarfraz Ahmed’s Pakistan began the Champions Trophy as underdogs. They barely qualified for the tournament as the lowest-ranked team. The Pakistan line-up didn’t have any real stars. There were senior players like Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez but they are hardly counted among the established match-winners in today’s cricket.
But after their June 4 defeat against India, Pakistan showed the world that even a team bereft of stars can win a major title provided it has the sort of hunger and self-belief that sets you apart.
Credit goes to Sarfraz for instilling much-needed self-belief in his players. I remember asking him in Birmingham after the defeat against India whether he still had faith in his side. Sarfraz nodded and made it clear that his team was good enough. “We just need to give our best,” he had said.
A good captain is a leader who has the ability to bring the best out of his players. Sarfraz did just that and in the process he has proved to be an excellent choice to lead Pakistan. He is already their captain in both the limited-over formats. The country’s cricket chiefs are mulling the option of making him Pakistan’s Test captain as well. Personally, I believe that Sarfraz is up to the task. He is an asset for the Test team and can command respect from his players.
Pakistan shouldn’t procrastinate for too long. They should be clear in their minds as to who will succeed Misbah as Test captain. At the moment, Sarfraz is Pakistan’s best choice.
Pakistan should take their decisions wisely.
Having won the Champions Trophy in spectacular fashion, Pakistan should now look to reestablish themselves as one of the top teams in limited-over cricket.
That can only be done by infusing more young blood to both the ODI and T20 lineups. Pakistan have won the Champions Trophy but that doesn’t mean they should stick to the same combination. The next 50-over World Cup is in England in 2019. We should set it as our target. Pakistan have not reached the World Cup final since 1999. That’s a long, dry spell. If they want to change the script and regain the world title then Pakistan will have to bring in more Hasan Alis and Fakhar Zamans. The likes of Malik and Hafeez aren’t getting any younger. The likes of Wahab Riaz and Ahmed Shehzad aren’t getting any better. Pakistan will have to think beyond such players and sniff out talented youngsters from the domestic circuit. If they do that then I’m sure that Pakistan will be able to raise a team which will be good enough to win the World Cup in 2019.
Meanwhile, there is another positive development for Pakistan cricket as the International Cricket Council (ICC) has confirmed that a World XI will tour Pakistan later this year.
“Plans for a World XI to play in Pakistan later this year continue to be developed as the ICC Board confirmed its support of Pakistan’s efforts to bring international cricket back to Pakistan. In light of this the Board agreed to support the staging of a Pakistan v World XI event in Lahore later this year, a three game series of T20 games that will be accorded international status,” the ICC announced on Saturday.
It is certainly great news for Pakistan, which has suffered because of any international cricket in the country. One hopes that the World XI will visit the country and trip will pave the path for the resumption of international cricket in Pakistan.