Pakistan's ICC Champions Trophy triumph must revitalise the nation's cricket
By Saj Sadiq - @Saj_PakPassion
Last Updated: 22/06/17 10:59am
Sajid Sadiq says Pakistan's ICC Champions Trophy triumph must revitalise the nation's game and encourage much-needed investment...
It wasn't quite the Danish football team being whisked off the beach when on their holidays to win the European Championships in 1992, but the Pakistan cricket team's Champions Trophy win must rank amongst sport's biggest shocks in recent times.
Regarded as also-rans, there to make up the numbers and huge underdogs, Sarfraz Ahmed's team confounded the critics and comprehensively beat arch-rivals India in a one-sided final at The Oval.
A team going into the tournament as the eighth-ranked nation, out of eight teams. A team that had struggled for form in the 50-over version in the last few years, a team that had only scraped into qualifying for the Champions Trophy, a team that had been ridiculed for its outdated approach to a format of the game that had moved on and team which was regarded by most as just there to make up the numbers. The group make-up meant that most experts predicted an easy entry to the semi-finals for England and South Africa, with Sri Lanka and Pakistan contesting third place and the avoidance of the wooden spoon.
Even before the tournament started there was the usual turmoil and chaos in the Pakistan camp with Umar Akmal being sent home in disgrace due to a lack of fitness. The tournament started with an absolute thrashing by India and the proud Pakistani cricket fans were not a happy bunch. Humiliation was expected and Pakistan's cricket followers feared the worst.
However, Pakistan cricket teams are always at their best with their backs to the wall and with nowhere to turn. With nothing to lose, Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed forged a mentality and game-plan that worked wonders. Changes in personnel, a positive approach, aggression and a never-say-die attitude replaced negativity, self-doubt, confusing tactics and a timid approach.
Following a surprise-win over South Africa and a nervous defeat of Sri Lanka, the Pakistan team at the end of the group stage was now looking an altogether different animal to the one that had started the tournament. They had made it to the semi-finals which was unexpected. Many would have been satisfied with a semi-final exit, but Sarfraz Ahmed and his team made up of experienced old-heads and exciting youngsters had better ideas and had their eyes on a bigger target. What followed in the next two games were two of the most flawless performances Pakistan has ever compiled in the 50-over format.
To not only beat England and India but to defeat them in the comprehensive manner they did was unthinkable even for the most die-hard Pakistani fans. With Pakistan over the years it's usually been one of the areas of the game, usually the bowling, that has lead them to victory, but in the semi-final and final all three facets were impeccable.
After defeating a lacklustre England by eight wickets, the arch-rival India stood in Pakistan's way to glory. Given Pakistan's record against India at ICC events and after the drubbing on June 4 at Edgbaston, not many gave Pakistan a chance. But the timid cats of Edgbaston had been replaced by a modern-day version of the Cornered Tigers at The Oval.
With fire in their bellies, swagger, flair and a win-at-all-costs approach, Pakistan outplayed Virat Kohli's India and gave them a taste of their own medicine. India was shell-shocked and did not know what hit them and the match was all but over when Mohammad Amir demolished the Indian top-order. Even Pakistani fans were looking on in disbelief when Sarfraz Ahmed lifted the trophy after demolishing India at a sun-baked Oval. The tactics had been perfect, the energy was there for all to see and there were huge grins on the faces of Pakistani fans who have not had much to cheer in recent times. These were joyous moments for a team that had faced the wrath of the public and media earlier in the tournament and these were moments to cherish particularly as they had beaten the arch-rivals. It was a perfect finale for Pakistan to a tournament that had been expected to be a disaster for the Men in Green.
The Pakistani cricket team had once again given their fans the full range of emotions in a tournament, despair, pain, anger, tension and unbridled happiness. The Pakistan team had defied their critics and won against all the odds. Back in Pakistan, fans took to the streets, waited for the players to arrive at the various airports they were due to land in and thousands of fans waited outside the houses of some of the players. A huge crowd built up outside the home of the skipper Sarfraz Ahmed to welcome him and he did not disappoint them, singing along with the fans and shouting 'Pakistan Zindabad' to much elation.
As the dust settles on the brilliant victory at The Oval, thoughts will no doubt turn to how Pakistan cricket's think-tank can utilise the Champions Trophy win and ensure that the victory is not wasted. The 1992 World Cup win ensured that youngsters in Pakistan had an abundance of role-models and cricketers who they could idolise. Wasim Akram, Mushtaq Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq became heroes in 1992 and a generation of cricketers in Pakistan followed in their footsteps and wanted to be the next Wasim, Mushtaq or Inzamam. Tournament wins generate interest in cricket, players doing well ensure that more youngsters want to play cricket and that is precisely what Pakistan cricket needs.
No international cricket at home since 2009 has meant that a generation of passionate cricket lovers in Pakistan have not been able to watch their heroes in cities such as Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Sialkot and Multan which is tragic. Many in Pakistan had become disillusioned with cricket and had fallen out of love with cricket, but the remarkable Champions Trophy win should rekindle that passion for cricket amongst the young population.
Empty stadia in the majority of domestic matches need to be replaced by crowds turning up in healthy numbers. Investment derived from the Champions Trophy win needs to be made at the grass roots level and especially in school-level cricket which is largely being ignored. In addition, facilities at stadiums in Pakistan need to be improved and a portion of the winning funds need to be attributed to better facilities at those venues. The Champions Trophy win may not be the catalyst for international teams to return to Pakistan but it gives the stakeholders in Pakistan cricket an ideal opportunity to revitalise the game and invest in much-needed areas. Those who have the best interests of Pakistan cricket at heart will be urging the men in the corridors of power at the PCB to not waste this golden opportunity and make it count.