Syed Ali Zia Jaffery |
The odd-sized Sophia Gardens looked like the Gaddafi Stadium Lahore as the deluge of Pakistani supporters outnumbered those of the home side. Everything looked like Lahore, barring the serene English weather. The Lahore flavor was conspicuous with full gusto at about 5 in the evening. Supporters draped in greens and whites were dancing in the streets of Cardiff as the Barmy Army looked distraught. Why were dholls and bhangras lighting up an otherwise quiet city?
This was a differently crafted victory; rather it was not an archetypical Pakistani showing. There was no drama, no panic, and no heroic rescue.
The diehard supporters had a big reason to be thrilled as the men in green led by the street-smart Sarfraz Ahmed defeated hosts England and qualified for the final of this 8-nation event. Yes, you heard it right; the lowest ranked Pakistan ousted the strongest team in the tournament. This secured Pakistan’s first final berth in the Champions Trophy. It is also the first time that Pakistan will play a final of an ICC ODI event after the ill-fated one vs Australia in the 1999 World Cup at Lord’s, London.
The cat was not amongst the pigeons
This was a differently crafted victory; rather it was not an archetypical Pakistani showing. There was no drama, no panic, and no heroic rescue. The fans were not having mini heart attacks; they were just dancing in the aisles and in the streets of Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar.
A different Pakistan turned up for the encounter. A concerted bowling effort ably and surprisingly backed up by brilliance in the field ensured that the mighty English batting line up was sent packing at 211. Though shades of typical Pakistani fielding were also seen in the shape of two drop catches, albeit tough ones. Debutant Ruman Raees and Junaid Khan bagged two apiece while the feisty Hasan Ali continued his dream run and took 3, grabbing the player of the match award. Pakistan kept chipping away and never allowed the dashing batsmen to run amok.
Regardless of who Pakistan faces on Sunday, one can expect a cliff hanger of a match. Pakistan can pull off something spectacular and the least expected.
A neat bowling performance does not relax the nerves of the fans as they are aware of what Pakistan can do with the bat. The line up can fall like a house of cards. But the fans basked in the sun and enjoyed their snacks as the Mardan-born Fakhar Zaman smacked it to all corners. The Navy-sailor-turned-cricketer scored a sparkling 57 before being stumped off Adil Rashid. This allowed the ill-suited Azhar Ali to settle in and play an innings within his capacity. Under the circumstances, he proved an ideal foil for the swashbuckling Zaman. He essayed a workman-like 76. The beleaguered Hafeez and Babar saw the team through with decent knocks of 31 and 38 not out respectively. This will do their confidence the world a good going into the final on Sunday.
Make hay at the Oval
Either Pakistan will be up against arch rivals and tormentors India or their erstwhile eastern wing, Bangladesh, at the Oval on Sunday. Complacency is not an option but Pakistan has the propensity to fall prey to it. The feel good factor attained by chasing paltry totals may get the better of them. Azhar Ali’s approach is not suited for all situations. His inability to take his game up a notch may go on to haunt us in the final. Our bowlers could have an off or the opponents can bat exceedingly well.
In a pressure cooker match, Pakistan will have to take the bull by its horns while batting. Regardless of who Pakistan faces on Sunday, one can expect a cliff hanger of a match. Pakistan can pull off something spectacular and the least expected. They have already achieved more than what was predicted. This would be Pakistan’s third final in London. Will we see a replica of fantastic scenes of 21st June 2009 when Pakistan won the World T20 or will it be gloom and doom like the finale of 20th June 1999? Come Sunday, we will get the answer.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Analyst and Sub Editor at Global Village Space. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.