Pakistan’s remarkable achievement in winning the Champions Trophy, where not many felt that the team would go past the initial stages of the tournament, is something which is more suited for fairytales rather than a serious discussion on cricket.
What started off as a meandering and ill-thought-out campaign for the 1992 World Cup winners turned into the stuff of dreams by the time the victorious Pakistan captain lifted the 2017 Champions Trophy at The Oval on 18 June.
To many experts who looked at the team composition at the start of the tournament, there were too many tried and tested failures on the list. Many of them had flattered to deceive at various points in Pakistan’s recent cricket past. None stood out more than the enigmatic opening batsman, Ahmed Shehzad.
After a disastrous start to the Champions Trophy campaign — where Pakistan were decimated by a much-fancied Indian side in their opening match — Mickey Arthur and Sarfaraz Ahmed decided to take a gamble. They dropped the experienced Shehzad and brought in a rookie in the shape of Fakhar Zaman.
To say that Pakistan’s fortunes in the tournament changed from that point onward would be an understatement, but what followed after this change is now a matter for history books as Pakistan confounded all critics by winning four consecutive games to become champions.
As a victorious Pakistan squad, dressed in the white jackets of Champions Trophy winners stood in jubilation at The Oval, many observers could not help but smile as Shehzad was also seen celebrating this achievement.
Lost in his own world, Shehzad was busy celebrating victory with scant regard to the fact that he had literally played no part in his team’s success. To those who had followed his progress from his international debut in 2009, this pretty much encapsulated his career in the most perfect manner. A supremely gifted player, who was equipped with talent and was always touted as the future for Pakistan, seemed to deliver rarely after being given numerous chances.
Perhaps cruelly nicknamed ‘selfie’ for the unusual penchant of taking his own pictures and ridiculed for his odd use of social media, Shehzad has had a strange love-hate relationship with Pakistan cricket and its followers.
In the fall-out of Pakistan’s disastrous World T20 campaign in 2016, Shehzad was dropped for the important tour of England that summer as it was deemed that his indiscipline was a cause of concern for the Pakistan team management.
It appeared to many that for all intents and purposes, his international career was facing a long, and possibly, perpetual layover.
But, as has been the case with Shehzad for many years, he made a surprising comeback on the basis of domestic performances and was selected for Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies, where once again he appeared to do just enough to keep himself in the ODI and T20I teams.
The popular mandate, once again, appeared to favour his ouster from the team as it was clear that the promise of skill and talent was not enough for a place in the team when other deserving candidates could have been given a chance too.
What was clear about Shehzad was that despite being given numerous chances, he showed no clear signs of improvement as his batting skills — which seemed to favour a boundary-clearing shot followed by a number of dot deliveries — were not what Pakistan needed.
He may have looked the part but when it came to deliver in those crucial opening overs in the ODIs or T20Is, Shehzad was simply unable to fit the bill. His selection for the Champions Trophy squad was thus met with universal disapproval and his replacement by the talented Zaman was to prove a case in point.
Marked from an early age as the perfect aggressive opener that Pakistan needed for all formats of the game, the 25-year-old Shehzad of today represents a curious dilemma for Pakistan’s selectors. Once again, fortune favoured him as he was selected for the historical series against the World XI. The selectors, much to the irritation of many, felt that the T20I format could be the right place for Shehzad to rediscover his lost form and looking at the result of the three-match Independent Cup tournament, it seems that they were right.
After a total of 143 international games, there is a distinct possibility that Shehzad, with his last three T20I scores of 39, 43 and 89, has finally come of age. Whilst there were periods of play during the three-match series where it appeared that Shehzad was playing for his average at the expense of his team’s victory, it would be grossly unfair to not accept that his innings in the final T20I was instrumental in Pakistan’s series victory. Finally, it would appear, Shehzad could lift a trophy with some justification.
Whether this period of his career is yet another false dawn is something only time will tell. What is clear is that if he continues to play with the responsibility and consistency that he displayed during the Independence Cup, there won’t be too many critics who will oppose his selection. It’s important for Shehzad to seize the moment and use his current form to ensure that he is able to repay the faith put in him by Pakistan cricket and continue delivering for many many years to come.
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