ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Pakistan's stars aligned to help a young team script their own miracles
Pakistanis and Pakistan believe in miracles especially when it comes to cricket. We have seen it happen in 1992, 2009, 2016, and now 2017 but this was unlike any of them. Yes, the stars aligned
Pakistan are traveling to England to take part in the ICC Champions trophy. Their answer to David Warner is suspended and undergoing investigation for spot fixing. They have recently lost an ODI against a West Indies team that struggles to beat Afghanistan. Their answer to Virat Kohli has never developed into anything more than Mohammad Kaif let alone Kohli, he is still selected in the squad – oh wait – he has failed a fitness test and is flying back home. Pakistan’s first match is against defending champions, India; Pakistan are beaten comprehensively. That was expected, that was logical; what else did you expect from a team that is languishing at the bottom of the rankings, a team that had won 6 matches against the top 8 teams in more than 2 years?
Let’s move on, Pakistan need to salvage some pride, maybe beat Sri Lanka, even their coach isn’t very optimistic. He says this team is a work in progress taking baby steps up the hill; he cites the two series wins against the West Indies as progress, well that’s hardly satisfactory for a one sport country. Oh wait, Pakistan have suffered another blow, their most experienced fast bowler has been ruled out of the tournament due to an injury.
Pakistan’s next match is up against the number one ranked team in the world, a team that contains three of the top 10 ranked batsmen and two of the very best ODI bowlers. A loss is imminent, South Africa’s victory is expected but Pakistan doesn’t do the expected. Pakistan loses a world cup semi-final at home after labeling the opposition nothing more than a bunch of club cricketers, Pakistan follows that up with the most staggering world cup win down-under 5 years later. So Pakistan beats South Africa.
Pakistan move on to the next game, they are on top against Sri Lanka, the new opener, Pakistan’s second attempt at an answer to Warner has smashed a quick-fire 50. Pakistan are expected to stroll through to victory, Pakistan panic, Pakistan lose wickets and suddenly need in excess of 70 runs with three wickets remaining. Sri Lanka should win from here, Perara should catch that sitter, Pakistan should be out instead their captain and their ace bowler guide Pakistan to victory; well that’s surprising.
Tournament favorites, England, are next up, they should win this match comfortable. Surely Pakistan can’t defy logic again, and surely this England team has too much for them after all they have annihilated Pakistan in almost all their recent ODI encounters. The mighty English batting lineup score 300+ runs for fun, the mighty have fallen, the mighty have fallen with their tails stuck between their legs complaining about conditions at their own ground. Pakistan storm past England without breaking a sweat, England were supposed to do this to Pakistan not the other way around.
No, India again, not them again; Pakistan win big ICC tournament games against them just as often as South Africa wins major tournaments. And now they have lost the toss, this India, Kohli’s India don’t lose run chases; this Pakistan, it doesn’t set up big enough targets for its bowlers to defend. Their left-handed opener, Pakistan’s savior sent from the heavens is dismissed for 3, wait it’s a no-ball, it’s his day, maybe he actually has been sent from the heavens. Pakistan pile on 338 runs but this is Kohli’s India, they murder such run chases for a living and he himself is the greatest chaser in ODI cricket’s history.
Pakistan’s ace fast bowler has returned from injury, he has nightmares from London, he hasn’t taken a wicket with the new ball in this entire tournament. He is bowling against a man who said not long ago that the hype surrounding this fast bowler from Pakistan is too much – boom, LBW – maybe the hype was justified, maybe not. In walks KING KOHLI, he’s got this; he edges to first slip and is dropped – it’s his day. Next ball, he is walking back towards the dressing room because the hype surrounding that fast bowler from Pakistan isn’t unsubstantiated; after all he has dismissed the king of ODI run chases twice in two balls and that is just how good he is.
There is a young 18-year-old leg spinner playing in this match, he is the youngest ever player to play in an ICC ODI tournament final, he bamboozles Yuvraj with a googly, he follows that up with an LBW appeal, he convinces his captain to take a review and now he is the youngest player ever to pick up a wicket in an ICC ODI tournament final. Pakistan are strolling to victory sooner than you can say victory and the star of this tournament, Pakistan’s latest “PACE IS PACE YAAR” darling runs in and fittingly takes the last wicket. Pakistan are the champions, Sarfraz lifts the trophy, they are in white blazers, blazers that fit so badly that you know the tailor never expected this bunch of players to be wearing them at the end of the tournament.
A miracle, right? Pakistanis and Pakistan believe in miracles especially when it comes to cricket. We have seen it happen in 1992, 2009, 2016, and now 2017 but this was unlike any of them. Yes, the stars aligned, Fakhar might never have played had Sharjeel been available; Rumman would never had featured in the semi-final had Amir not been fit; Junaid Khan might never had a chance to play had Wahab either bowled well in the first match or not gotten injured. Shadab might not have recovered after getting hit for two sixes in the opening match, Hasan might never have regained his confidence after he was taken to the cleaners by Yuvraj and Kohli in the first match but this newer, fresher group of players is different.
They might not be products of the PSL but they have been polished and tested in the PSL, time and time again. These guys have played with some of the best players in the world before making their international debuts and are well equipped to handle pressure and bounce back. Pakistan’s previous generation was often apologetic, often crumbled under pressure in such games but not these guys, they neither carry the mental scars of previous disappointments nor are they taught to take a step back.
You look at Rumman, Shadab, Hasan’s celebrations and you would know they are much like 90s Pakistan and current India. In Sarfraz, they have a leader who can relate to them, he is just as exuberant as them. He has suffered countless disappointments in domestic finals with Karachi before the PSL and with Quetta Gladiators twice in two PSL years. He knows how much a defeat hurts but more importantly he knows what a win feels like after all he led Pakistan to the 2006 under 19 World-Cup title. 11 years later, Sarfraz has won the ICC Champions trophy, he is here to stay, these young kids from Pakistan are here to stay; they make their own miracles.
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