With Pakistan's Champions Trophy triumph over Sri Lanka, Sarfraz now has something to bank on

Updated June 13, 2017

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Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed celebrates hitting the winning runs during the ICC Champions Trophy, Group B cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, at the Cardiff Stadium.─AP
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed celebrates hitting the winning runs during the ICC Champions Trophy, Group B cricket match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, at the Cardiff Stadium.─AP

Before the ICC Champions Trophy tournament started, I asked Sarfraz if a more realistic goal for Pakistan was to win one out of their three group stage games.

He laughed it off and said they were going to win these three games, the semi-final and the final.

He was being politically correct, I said to myself.

He can now look back and say he always believed in his team.

When Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews walked out to bat, he faced eight balls of frontline pace.

Was Sarfraz missing a trick? It sure looked like he was.

Debutant Faheem Ashraf – not the most able of pacers – bowled with Hafeez and Imad for the next 10 overs. Mathews and Dickwella added 55 runs in this phase.

Who wouldn’t be comfortable with 160/3 in 30 overs, that too in a knockout game against Pakistan – perennial chokers while chasing?

But then, Cardiff became Karachi.

In seven overs, Muhammad Amir and Junaid Khan changed everything about the match.

They bowled with pace ─ slightly short of length ─ and kept teasing the batsmen with late movement.

The movement was ever-so-subtle and delayed ─ maybe by a heartbeat.

It was enough for the batsmen to start thinking about survival. Acceleration? Forget it.

It was magic if you consider how Pakistani pacers have bowled in the last two years.

It didn’t matter then that Junaid and Amir were averaging in their mid-30s and had gone for runs in similar situations in the recent past.

They picked up four wickets in the next 7 overs.

Players who were all set to catapult Sri Lanka to a total in excess of 300 were back in the hut, managing all but 19 runs.

237 should have been a cakewalk, right?

Cardiff became Lahore.

Fakhar Zaman’s maiden 50 came off 34 balls.

There was nothing in the pitch and Pakistan were cruising at a run rate of 6.72 after 11 overs.

For all of Zaman’s talent, he does have a weakness against the short ball. It became a little comical as he tried to hide this weakness by over trying to make room outside the off as the Sri Lankan pacers tried bowling short to him.

When Zaman departed, all Pakistan needed was sensible strike rotation.

Three to four runs per over for the next 10 overs would have been a nice way to go about it. But what’s Pakistan cricket without some drama?

Cardiff became Colombo.

Babar Azam went first, taking Cardiff for Abu Dhabi and instinctively picking out the mid-wicket fielder with a flick.

Muhammad Hafeez followed shortly, getting into a tangle and chopping one to mid-on.

Azhar Ali looked set to anchor the innings.

The Sri Lankan pacers peppered him with short balls for a while but he looked comfortable all along.

A rising delivery on the off stump channel ended his innings.

It is hard to tell if Shoaib Malik’s dismissal was unlucky or poor judgment on the all-rounder’s part.

Whatever it was, his catch to the keeper down the leg left Pakistan reeling at 132 for 5.

In the lead up to this game, Imad Wasim talked about his desire to be an all-rounder.

That’s all right, except Imad left his feet behind in the dressing room when he came out to bat.

He edged it to the keeper playing away from his body. You could fit two people between the ball and Imad’s body, but he still decided to poke his bat at it.

From 70 for no loss, Pakistan slumped to 136 for 6.

How? Panic. One. Two. Three. Go!

Why? Because Pakistan.

Pakistan needed 75 more to win when Amir joined Sarfraz.

The captain, by now, was involved in three mix-ups and a mid-wicket chip that fell just short of the fielder.

How long could that go on for, really?

But he rode his luck even more.

Malinga set him up for two false shots: one went straight to Perera at mid-on and the other was a slightly more difficult ─ still catchable ─ chance at deep square leg. Both squandered.

It became a story of two parallel contests. Pakistan battled it out against Pakistan and Sri Lanka tried to overcome Sri Lanka.

The cricket itself was pretty ordinary.

As Amir and Sarfraz slowly made their way through, Pakistani fans found their voice again.

Cardiff was back to being Karachi.

Pakistan’s win, admittedly a result of a strange mix of extraordinary and below-par cricket, is still a win.

The number 8 ranked side is in the semi-final of an ICC event and, if anything, this will do a world of good to the team’s morale.

Sarfaraz’s innings is also a mild ─ if not outright – statement about his arrival as captain.

He now has something to bank on when he has to stamp his authority.

As Misbah might tell him over a cup of tea, individual performance matters a lot more when you are captain.

England might decimate Pakistan this Wednesday.

Or Pakistan might walk away with a win like they did last year on this ground, chasing 302.

Whatever happens, Pakistan have already overachieved. They have never played a Champions Trophy final before.

Ask Sarfraz and he will tell you they are not done yet.