By Arsalan Iqtidar Khan
Pakistan played Australia in the must win (by huge margin) match in the WT20 2016. The match ended with subdued speculation of poor performance from many seniors in the team who didn’t want Afridi to go on a high. This hearsay was further fueled by Shoaib Malik, who explained during the post press conference that most of the team members were not on talking terms during the 2009 World T20 winning campaign.
The match ended in defeat and Pakistan was kicked out of the tournament in front of a packed house supporting them. This was supposed to mark the end of 20 years of the blistering career of Shahid Afridi. He said in the post-match interview with Ramiz Raja that he wanted to play more and raise his bat in front of his home crowd before saying goodbye.
This was a weird statement coming from a veteran as Pakistan was not playing any T20 internationals at home at that time. He relinquished his captaincy and voiced his desire to continue as a player. Pakistan dropped to 7 in ICC T20I ranking after the annual update that followed the crowning of West Indies as the champions of WT20 2016.
To their credit PCB accepted Afridi’s resignation and handed over the captaincy to Sarfaraz Ahmed. The rest as they is history.
Ahmed’s first assignment was to take on England in T20 who are as strong as any team at home. That T20I match was to be played after a disappointing 4-1 series loss in the ODIs. The team struggled to understand the dynamics of modern ODI game in foreign conditions and their proud bowling went for the highest ever score against any team in one of the games.
If playing at home didn’t serve as an advantage, Morgan winning the toss and batting first gave unprecedented benefit to the home team. What we saw in next couple of hours was the bowling and positive mindset that Pakistan was known for historically. England couldn’t score more than 135 on a pitch with seemingly batting-friendly conditions and Pakistan achieved the target effortlessly in 15 overs.
This was the start of the brightest era in Pakistan’s T20 cricket history.
Next assignment was against the world champions in deserts of the Middle East. Sarfaraz’s men sailed through the men in red without much of a trouble and completed a 3-nil green wash. Pakistan played against the same team in their home conditions in the Caribbeans and won that series too with 3-1 margin. Wins against World XI and Sri Lanka are still crisp in the memory and needs no refresher.
To Sarfaraz’s advantage, young gentlemen in the team are to ready to learn and surprisingly more humble than the other debutants that Pakistan saw in the last decade. This allowed Sarfaraz to vent his frustration a few times without much of a reaction from the other side.
The senior roles were occupied by Shoaib Malik and Muhammad Hafeez quite comfortably, both not wanting to be captain in the near future. This is something I dare say never happened in the recent history of Pakistan Cricket.
Hard work, dedication, teamwork, strong team management and partially luck too helped Pakistan to dethrone New Zealand from the top of the T20 rankings after their rule of 547 days. This was the second longest stint since the inception of this format of the game.
There are tough times ahead. Sarfaraz and his men are going to be tested stiffly by outgoing number one team in their backyard in couple of months’ time. There are several areas that still needs improvement. Batting still needs someone other than Shoaib Malik who can be relied upon regularly. Sarfaraz as a captain needs to calm down in moments when team is not doing well.
We still need to see if Pakistan can continue their rise as one of the better fielding units, something which is never associated with them and most importantly we still need to see how this relatively new team and their captain reacts to a series defeat.
But for now we can proudly say that we have the best team in the format of the game that was arguably invented in Pakistan.
Arsalan Iqtidar Khan is a telecommunications professional and a cricket fanatic who loves to travel to follow this game. He tweets @arsalaniqtidar