'Well done PCB, well done Najam Sethi'

September 18, 2017



Pakistaaaan Zindaaaabaad, Paaakistaan Zinndabaaad
Jeetay gaa bhai jeetay gaa, Pakistaan Jeetay gaa

When 25,000 people chant the same mantra in unison, it breathes out spirit and releases an energy that effects the way the universe unfolds. In sports, this translates into the ‘home crowd advantage’. And Pakistan seemed to have plenty of it as they won the Independence Cup 2-1 against the World XI.

When the first coin toss in Lahore landed in favour of Faf du Plessis, he opted to chase. Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said, "We wanted to bat first anyway. Players are excited; many are playing for the first time. Our focus is on cricket. The past is the past. We have a zabardast team."

Sarfraz spoke in few words, but made his point clear. Its a fresh start for his team, he understands these conditions well, and he backs his boys.

Fakhar Zaman faced the first ball of the historic series. Fakhar, the champion of champions! The man who led Pakistan to glory on the big stage! The ex-navy officer who demolished India! Four, Four, Dot, Out. Fakhar rode his luck, displayed his skill and got caught at wide slip in the space of four deliveries. However, Fakhar’s role was defined. He scored a quick-fire 21 and 27 in the matches that follow, but more importantly he played fearless cricket up front.

Spectators cheer at the start of the first Twenty20 international match between the World XI and Pakistan. —AFP
Spectators cheer at the start of the first Twenty20 international match between the World XI and Pakistan. —AFP

Number two and Number three in Pakistan’s batting line-up were Ahmed Shehzad and Babar Azam. Both born and raised in Lahore, one 25 years old, the other 22, and both tipped to be the future of Pakistan cricket. They put on a 123 runs together. They were not too explosive, but were dominant enough to let the opposition know that it was Pakistan's turf.

Shehzad and Babar scored a total of 350 runs out of 554 that Pakistan managed in three games. They played out just under 70% of all the balls bowled to Pakistan. They ruled the roost. While Shehzad appeared a little lacklustre in the first two games before he truly came to the party in the third, Babar looked a million dollars the moment he faced his first delivery. On top of the bounce, quick swivel on his toes, and the role of his wrists, pulling Morne Morkel gloriously through square leg.

Babar is a genuine star in the making. Only if he takes heed from the wasted talent of his predecessors, his cousins (Akmals), only if he keeps those feet well grounded.

Babar was man of the match in the first game, and Shehzad in the last. Both missed golden opportunities of scoring centuries, both selflessly giving away their wicket in the quest of a higher total for their team.

Babar Azam (L) and Ahmed Shehzad lead the batting chart. – AFP
Babar Azam (L) and Ahmed Shehzad lead the batting chart. – AFP

Shoaib Malik walked out to bat at number four. Barring Ahmed Shehzad, the rest of the Pakistan team had a cumulative 327 international games under their belt; Malik alone has 376. He is the only remaining man who played under Wasim Akram.

And, if you are among the many in Pakistan who ask why Malik is still in the team? Watch the finishing of Pakistan’s innings in all three game, 38, 39 and 17* at a strike rate of 188. Giving the required impetuous every single time. Making that all-important impact at the tail end.

Babar, Shehzad and Malik scored over 80% of the runs made by Pakistan in the series. Their lower-middle order was hardly tested. The bowlers of World XI toiled as the Pakistani batsmen re-kindered emotions from a bygone era at Pakistan’s home of cricket.

Pakistan batted first in all three games, and it was up to their bowlers to defend competitive but gettable totals on a typically flat Gaddafi Stadium pitch, with shortened boundaries.

Spectators hold placards during the second T20 International match between the World XI and Pakistan. — AFP
Spectators hold placards during the second T20 International match between the World XI and Pakistan. — AFP

Imad opened the bowling for Pakistan in all three games. He was the only Pakistani bowler who completed his quota in every match. He is the possible replacement for the slot Muhammad Hafeez has filled so well, for so long, in the shorter formats. He kept them flat and tight, and was the only bowler across both teams to go for under seven runs an over.

The Pakistani pace battery did well in the middle overs with their discipline in line and length, and their variations in speed at the death.

But it is not just the flow of runs, Pakistan was also able to take regular wickets and get under the skin of the World XI in the first game and win by 20 runs.

The second game was different though. Hashim Amla came good and scored the only half-century for World XI in the series. World XI crossed the line with only one ball to spare as Perera smashed Ruman Raees for a six.

The final game was more one sided than the first. Pakistan took early wickets and reduced World XI to 67/5. Perera tried his heroics again, but did not find support from his partners. Pakistan won by 33 runs to seal the series.

Pakistan out played the world XI with bat and ball. But the most surprising and heartening facet of Pakistan’s game was in its energy in the ground. The pace at which these young Pakistani boys moved and the intent with which they attacked the ball in the field.

Faf du Plessis went to the extent of saying “There's lot more energy, their fielding is electric. That's a big change. They're as good as any team.”

In the middle of all the frenzy, Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi got the opportunity to say their final good byes in front of their home crowd.

Dave Cameron, chairman Cricket West Indies, received a special coin from PCB chairman Najam Sethi for extending his support to Pakistan. West Indies is expected to tour the country in November this year.

Well done PCB, well done Najam Sethi.

Pakistan finally played host on home soil, they were the better team, and they were cheered on every ball as international cricket in Pakistan officially resumed. Let's hope it's here to stay.

Were you present at the Gaddafi Stadium to witness the return of international cricket to Pakistan? Share your experiences with us at blog@dawn.com