You call them unpredictable and it will be a fitting one-word, all-inclusive description of the Pakistan cricket team. Every Pakistan cricket squad from all formats of the game has been erratic. They are all this and much more. When they are going down, they become the most intimidating team. After losing their opening match against India on June 4, 2017, in the recently concluded 2017 Champions Trophy, they had to win every match to stay alive and it was déjà vu 1992 all over again. Pakistan earned their first title as champions in the 2017 edition of the ICC Champions Trophy, 25 years after their 1992 World Cup final victory and that too after trouncing arch nemesis in cricket, India. The Pakistani team - the Cornered Tigers - clambered from the ashes of defeat to win it all and reclaim their throne. You can never ignore the Green Shirts. They can bounce back and take home all the glory they deserve.
These eleven men are unstable and rickety but they can be at their best without being intimidated by their opponents. Their run in the 2017 Champions Trophy held in England was akin to the 1992 Cricket World Cup. In both tournaments, they were on the verge of elimination but went on to play the finals and emerged as the champions. However, the 2017 Champions Trophy was a different ball game altogether. Pakistan’s loss to India in the group stages meant they had to win every match to stay alive in the tournament that saw the departure of strong teams such as Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies.
Pakistan defeated South Africa under Duckworth-Lewis method, defeated Sri Lanka by three wickets and won the semi-finals by beating the tournament’s top-ranking, unbeaten home team, England, by eight wickets. When India won the second semi-final against Bangladesh, the final match was set between Pakistan against India on June 18, 2017 - a contest transcending every cricket final. India winning the toss and electing to field first proved a disaster for Virat Kohli’s team. Sarfraz Ahmed’s eleven scored 338 in 50 overs, the second highest first innings total in Champions Trophy’s history. Openers Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman scored 59 (71) and 114 (106) respectively to give Pakistan the start they needed. Later, Babar Azam, 46 (52) and Mohammad Hafeez, 57 (37) added extra energy to the Pakistani team with their fine innings. Every batsmen’s shot selection and timing with the bat was perfect.
For a fact, the world cannot sideline Pakistan cricket team in any tournament. They have a habit of coming back and winning it all. Had Pakistan cricket team performed well in the semi-finals, it would have been a one-time episode and may be considered a fluke. However, giving their best performances in two consecutive matches, and especially in a pressure match - the final - against India, is a testament of the Green Shirts finally playing as a single unit and with focus on the present.
However, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), team management and the selectors should take points and notes from Pakistan’s brilliant performances in their matches of the 2017 Champions Trophy. In this regard, the PCB should keep Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman as the opening pair and let them grow together in ODIs to strengthen their chemistry. Azhar-Fakhar combination resemble to the legendary Saeed Anwar-Aamir Sohail pair. The middle order should remain the same while the PCB should train and further groom its bowlers Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Rumman Raees, Shadab Khan and Junaid Khan to help them evolve and sportsmen for they have shown the tendency to learn and give their best in matches with high-stakes.
Interestingly, Pakistan’s fielding was top notch in the last two games of the tournament. The team coach and the management must use Pakistan cricket team’s all match performances from the Champions Trophy as case studies for further developing the team. However, Sarfraz Ahmed and his boys should not become overconfident over their Championship win but should remain confident over learning, training and playing future matches with similar teamwork and determination as displayed in the 2017 Champions Trophy.
Published in Daily Times, June 20th, 2017.