Pakistan Cricket in 2017: One minute down, next minute up
The eyes showed disbelief, the brain did not know how to react, the heart pounded hard before it sank; Azhar Ali had dropped India’s most prolific batsman Virat Kohli. We cursed in unison with Amir and rued the missed opportunity in the voice of Nasir Hussain saying: “Then you look up and you see it’s Kohli.”
For the fans who knew Kohli more than just his love affair, hid their faces with their palms. This is it then, we thought. We are back to being the horrible Pakistan. Kohli doesn’t give you many chances, he wouldn’t give you any. Memories of his best ODI score of 183 against Pakistan in an Asia Cup match came rushing back.
At least for the better part of 2017 we had told ourselves that we are a formidable fielding side. Babar Azam was taking slip catches for fun, Shadab, Hassan, Fakhar, Imad were all young and prolific. ‘Catches win matches’ we all said under our breaths. Here at the Oval, though, we had dropped the Champions Trophy. For all the talk about a change in brand of cricket, we were back to the oblivion in which the elder Akmal had pushed us.
Pakistani fans are a rare breed though. While most other cricket fans would switch off their television sets at such an occasion, Pakistani fans know their team writes suspense thrillers for a living. So by the time Amir ran in to bowl to Kohli, we all still believed. This is not just because of Pakistan’s famous notoriousness; rather we still didn’t believe we were playing the finals of Champions Trophy.
The year 2017 started with Pakistan receiving an inevitable drubbing at the hands of Australia, 4-1 in five match ODI series. The Pakistan Super League’s 2nd edition then arrived to our rescue; the fact that its final was played in Lahore at first seemed a far cry, but the PCB should be credited for pulling that off albeit controversially. More importantly, it gave us something to work with for the rest of the year. Shadab Khan, Hassan Ali, Rumman Raees and Fakhar Zaman were picked up from different PSL franchises for the following tour of West Indies.
This was to be the first tour of the newly appointed skipper Sarfraz Ahmed who took over the reins from Azhar Ali. The overhaul came after Pakistan’s abysmal run in limited overs cricket. Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan head coach, termed it as an old brand of cricket. Pakistan was failing to keep up with other cricketing outfits. It was all doom and gloom in limited overs.
So when Pakistan team boarded their plane for West Indies, it was their Test match veterans, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, who made the headlines rather than their new skipper and a youthful squad. Shadab did wonders in the limited overs, Hassan made headlines with his consistent bowling, and Sarfraz led them all well. Pakistan’s batting was consistent, surprisingly. Their fielding was prolific and the body language – aggressive. However, that was a depleted West Indies side. By the time, the team landed in England, we were still reeling with emotions of the Misbah-Younis farewell.
The India game on June 4, was more than just forgettable. It was Pakistan cricket at its worst. Pathetic fielding, static captaincy and rubbish bowling blew the team away during the first half of the match.
So to be able to be on top of India and inducing an edge from Kohli’s bat in a final match where your opener, who had debuted in the same tournament, hit a swashbuckling ton was not even believable. So as the ball went ‘in the air’, and was pouched safely by Shadab Khan, elation took over everything – this was peak Pakistan which goes ‘one minute down and next minute up’.
To keep an Indian team below 300 is a herculean task, whereas to shoot them at 158 is just out of this world. Pakistan being Pakistan claimed the Champions Trophy from having fallen to the lowest against the same Indian team.
It was all so Pakistan about that turn around, powered by fast bowlers, ushered by a left-handed opener and led by an aggressive captain. Year 2017 became the blue print of an epic Pakistan turn around.
What followed, against Sri Lanka and the World XI, will continue to be dimmed by those two Mohammad Amir deliveries to Virat Kohli.
*Headline of this story was changed later on for clarity.