On Sunday, somewhere in Pakistan, some kids will go and buy a bat and a ball. They will copy what they saw on TV: bowl like Hasan Ali, bat like Fakhar Zaman and throw in a Sarfraz impersonation somewhere in there. And, just like that, these kids will fall in love with Pakistan cricket. How can they not?
Five years of mediocrity in ODI cricket can make even the most devout fans sceptical about their team’s chances. Test cricket was generally competitive – a structure built largely around Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq – but what about limited overs cricket? It was ages behind the rest of the world and Pakistan have been paying a price for it too. How will kids pick up the sport like they used to in the 1990s? I grew up watching Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar. Needless to say, I always wanted to be like them. These kids had to watch Umar Akmal and Ahmad Shehzad.
Pakistan went into their one-billionth rebuilding phase with new faces, new coaches and, finally, a new captain. But the problem is, you can’t just become a modern day side in the blink of an eye. It takes time. They had to learn on the job.
They arrived in this tournament ranked number eight out of - you guessed it - the eight competing teams. The qualification itself was a classic case of scraping through, huffing and puffing. Literally like the last runner in a 42km marathon. And, just like that runner would collapse right after crossing the finish line, Pakistan dropped down to number nine only a few days after the qualification period ended in 2015. How? They lost to Zimbabwe.
Was that a sign all of us should have been looking for?
That Pakistan have made it to the final of the Champions Trophy is not because the team is suddenly playing modern day cricket. It’s because they realised their limitations. So, they came to England, got annihilated by India and figured out that their best chance was to combine a bit of the 1990s with some of 2017.
Over to the 1990s for their bowling approach and the intent to always be on the prowl for wickets. You will see a slip in the 32nd over and a silly mid-on in the 41st over. You will see a leg-spinner bowling to pick wickets – we are in 1992 now – and pacers reversing the ball just about perfectly. They cracked the code, almost as if by default, in all the three games against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England.
Take England’s example. In the lead up to this tournament, they played 29 games at home after the 2015 World Cup. In 15 of these 29 games, they scored 300 or more. Last year, they piled on Pakistan’s misery by scoring 444 runs in 50 overs against them. This is Eoin Morgan’s England; a team that wants to go for 300-plus every time they bat. On Wednesday, they did not know what to do. It’s not like they didn’t try. They were just clueless. Ben Stokes batted for 64 balls without hitting a single boundary. Accounting for innings where he has played more than 10 balls, this was his slowest since September 2015.
From 2017, Pakistan seem to have adopted a relatively better fielding standard. I say this with my fingers crossed because there is one game to go. But think of the days when they had Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Akhtar and Abdul Razzaq in their side. What they have today definitely seems like a luxury. An upgrade from the last seat in economy class to, say, business class.
Pakistan continue to defy everything and everyone, not least their own demons accumulated over a number of years full of mediocre limited-overs cricket. Numbers, past performances and the opposition – all these factors are nullified. They are a team that transcends these worldly constructs when they play the way they are doing right now.
It’s hard to tell how much of this is coach Mickey Arthur’s doing – just yet – but one thing is for sure: the Pakistan Super League (PSL) generation has come to the party.
Hassan Ali, first noticed on the big stage while playing for Peshawar Zalmi in the first season of PSL, is now the leading wicket-taker of the tournament with 10 wickets. He can reverse swing and he brings energy into everything he does on the field. Pakistan can do with more of that, for sure.
Fakhar Zaman had to wait for Ahmad Shehzad and Kamran Akmal to make their gazillionth comeback, and fail, before getting a go. In the three games that he has played so far, Pakistan’s opening stands of 40, 74 and 118 have come at 5.9 runs per over. Pakistan can do with more of that too.
Zaman’s strike rate of 117.94 is also the highest in the tournament for batsmen who have scored more than 100 runs.
Left-arm pacer Rumman Raees made his debut against arguably the best batting side in the tournament, on their home ground, and was asked to bowl with the new ball. He wasn’t even in the squad to begin with, coming in as a replacement for the injured Wahab Riaz. It must have been a nerve-wracking experience. Not for him. He just came in and did his job, like he did for Islamabad United at the PSL so many times.
Then there is Shadab Khan who is only 18 years old but bowls like he has played more than a few seasons at the top level. He knows he belongs here. Just like Raees, Shadab also gives this sense of calm that you don’t generally see from Pakistani players.
Give these players a few more years – in the PSL and for Pakistan – and more kids in Pakistan will want to be just like them.
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2017 00:15:51 IST