Imad Wasim interview: Pakistan, with Champions Trophy win, showed they can compete anywhere
In an exclusive interview, Pakistan all-rounder Imad Wasim talks about the experience of playing under Sarfraz Ahmed's captaincy, scripting a fairytale by lifting the trophy among other topics.
The famous quote "cometh the hour, cometh the man" is one that accurately describes how a Pakistan team, described by many as underdogs and one that was considered least likely to progress past the group stages of the tournament, managed to lift the Champions Trophy at The Oval on Sunday.
Yet, for those who wished to believe, the signs of rejuvenation were all there after the embarrassing defeat against India in the tournament opener. Whilst there were several heroes and architects of Pakistan's victory, it was really a collective team effort that propelled the team to the pinnacle. One of the key members of the trophy-winning squad, all-rounder Imad Wasim explained how the turnaround came about.
"I believe what made us tick in this tournament was the hunger for success. The manner in which everyone, including our own media, wrote us off after the defeat to India in the tournament opener made us doubly determined to prove them wrong. We sat together after that defeat and decided that we would make a strong effort to dispel any negative opinions about our squad.
"To recover from the mental effects of that loss and to win the tournament in this manner is a great achievement. Of course, the credit for this turnaround must also go to our coach Mickey Arthur as well. He's been really good, supporting us throughout the campaign and telling us — even when we lost — that we were going to come back and could turn it round, which we did."
Fired up by some frank discussions in the aftermath of the India loss, the game against South Africa seems to have been the catalyst that got the Pakistan side moving in the right direction. In Imad's view, it was more a question of mental aspects rather than any specific issues with skills and talents of this Pakistan team which was the real hurdle in their progress.
“I believe it was all in our minds. We had to believe in ourselves, and that belief was strengthened when we won against South Africa. We then had the strong feeling that we could take anyone on, and we showed that because South Africa were the number one ODI side in the world, and we beat them with ease."
Emotions aside, it is true that even the most faithful believers would have been doubtful of Pakistan going past an India side in the final of the Champions Trophy. A side which boasted proven big match-winners such as Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni looked impossible to beat on paper. Pakistan lost the toss, but the batsmen — led by a supreme 114-run effort by Fakhar Zaman — put the runs on the board, which in Imad's words allowed the bowlers to take advantage.
"Even though we scored 338 runs, we always knew that the Indian batting line-up is fabulous and has world-class players in it. They were quite capable of chasing down huge targets, so our only play was to strike early and put them under pressure.
"This is what Mohammad Amir did for us with his fantastic opening spell. If a team loses three-four wickets in the power-plays then chasing huge targets is a massive task which is what we saw on that day," he said.
Imad was very young when his family left Wales for Pakistan, but the bond with his country of birth has remained strong for the 28-year-old. He would have enjoyed playing in Cardiff, where Pakistan won back-to-back games against Sri Lanka and England, but his joy seemed to know no bounds as his team emerged victorious on English soil, which is also a great sign for the future of this young team.
"Winning in Wales and England is indeed special for me due to my connections. It is also very satisfying for the rest of the team as we are constantly told that Asian teams cannot succeed outside their comfort zones, especially in English conditions. We therefore wanted to show the world that this was not a fluke or a one-off victory and it's because we have the ability to win away from home as well. We performed well in four games in alien conditions and showed the world that we can compete at the top in all conditions."
The tag of being unpredictable is one that the Pakistan teams of the past have seemed to wear with pride, but does not do justice to their consistently brilliant performances in the Champions Trophy as Imad described, "I want to say that for a young team to win a major tournament like the Champions Trophy for the first time is a big achievement for us. One can only imagine the confidence we have got from this. I don't see us as an unpredictable side any more. We won the last four games of this tournament quite convincingly, and we've proved everybody wrong. We've got a great side and I am convinced that its one of the best in the world right now."
To many Pakistan supporters, the toss would have been crucial to the outcome of the final game against India. In fact, what Pakistan should do after winning the toss had been a topic of hot debate amongst fans and former cricketers. The 1992 World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan had weighed in with a suggestion that unlike how Pakistan had won in previous games of the tournament, they should bat first to put pressure on India.
Thankfully, the onus for that call was taken away from captain Sarfraz Ahmed as Virat Kohli called correctly and put Pakistan into bat. Did that upset the team's plans? Imad did not think that the team was that worried about the outcome of the toss as he remarked, "We cannot delve on what we would have done if we had won the toss as that is now history. However, I am confident that with the quality of the bowling line-up at our disposal, we would have been comfortable bowling first as well. The fact is that regardless of winning or losing the toss we came here to win the game which we achieved."
Amir's return to international cricket in 2016 after an absence of five years due to an ICC ban for spot-fixing was greeted with great interest by Pakistan supporters, but success in terms of wickets has been difficult for the fast-bowler. Amir was expected to lead Pakistan's bowling attack and he has done exactly that with his best performance reserved for the final, where he single-handedly destroyed the Indian top-order, thus paving the way for a memorable 180-run victory for his side. Imad who has known Amir from the Under-19 days, feels that the fast-bowler has suffered enough and is now focused on doing what's best for Pakistan.
“I've played with Amir since 2007 and captained him in Pakistan Under-19s as well. I've always believed in him and know that he is a world-class and a big-match player. I met him when he had the ban, and it was not a good feeling to see him away from cricket for five years. He was absolutely devastated during that time. I was lucky to have played with him in his first game when he was coming back in domestic cricket after his ban.
"What I saw was unbelievable. He had the same pace as before and looked like the same bowler as before. I'm one of his best mates and I can tell you that I really wanted him in the team as whatever happened had happened, and we should move on. To me, he is the number one bowler in Pakistan cricket and he continues to work hard and the results are visible from the way he's bowling. After five years out of the game he can still bowl like he did in the final, so you can imagine how tough he is mentally. I am sure that the best is yet to come from Amir.”
One of the reasons for India's rise in cricket in all formats has been attributed to the discovery of new talent via the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL). In 2016, after a long and protracted wait, the PCB decided to hold its own version of the lucrative Twenty20 League. The Pakistan Super League (PSL), in just two editions, has brought to attention some excellent new talents which Imad feels have had a direct bearing on Pakistan's Champions Trophy success.
“There is no doubt in my mind that you, as a player, do improve by playing in a tournament like the PSL which is an important tournament for us. Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan and a few other youngsters have come in and made an impact in this major tournament. Then later on these players have also represented Pakistan and put their skills to good use."
The history of cricket is full of wonderful tales of cricketers who have overcome overwhelming odds to carve out successful careers for themselves. However, no story of triumph against adversity comes near to that of the Indian left-handed batsman Yuvraj. Diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in 2011, Yuvraj's career as a sportsman seemed to be at an end as he battled the devastating disease. The left-handed batsman defied all odds and recovered well enough to re-establish his position in the India team. Whilst he was unable to make a telling contribution to India's case in the final of the Champions Trophy, Yuvraj remains one of India's main go-to batsmen and is a player to whom Imad looks for inspiration and advice.
"Yuvraj Singh is a world-class cricketer and an exceptional sportsman. His records and performances for India are well known to all of us and I do look up to him as a cricketer. I do look up to all such cricketers as there is so much to learn from these players. I do keep in touch with Yuvraj and approach him for advice whenever I can and I will continue to do so in the future."
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed's brilliance in the face of overwhelming odds was recognised by all who had the privilege to watch him lead his team to success at the Champions Trophy. The manner in which he, along with the coach Arthur, picked up the team after their initial loss to India was incredible to say the least. However for Imad, Sarfraz's ability to lead the team in this manner was not a huge surprise as he had done this all before.
"I have been lucky enough to have played with Sarfraz over the past 10-12 years and I know how good a captain he is. He has a great ability to lead the team and to use his players to good effect. He is simply fantastic and he has a great cricketing brain.
"I played under his captaincy when we won the Under-19 World Cup in 2006 where we were dismissed for 109 but then managed to bowl out India for 71. Almost 10 years on, we again outclassed an Indian side in all aspects of the game under his leadership. It's really a wonderful experience to have won a game playing under his leadership and to have achieved all this based on a total team effort instead of individual brilliance", Imad concluded.
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