Sports is such a contrasting phenomenon in terms of the emotions it provides and with Pakistan, cricket is that phenomenon. On one side, this game has given joy to the fans and the cricketers alike but there have been times when this game has made even the best cry. However, such is the beauty of cricket that it has bonded this Pakistani nation which no other element has ever done.
February 2016 was a special day in Pakistan cricket because finally the much-awaited Pakistan Super League was launched. Almost all test playing nations had started to have their own leagues, following India’s suit, and Pakistanis were waiting to have their own. It was believed that this league would provide the talent, the support and the breath of fresh air in Pakistan cricket at a time when its limited overs game was stagnating and you could feel how systematically Pakistan had lost all its Midas touch which they had a decade back.
The successful staging of PSL made the expert’s tongues wagging as to where were the players this league promised. The next assignment after this PSL was the Asia Cup and then the t20 world cup. Under the captaincy of Shahid Afridi top performers of the PSL were selected which included the returning Sharjeel Khan and Ahmed Shehzad. Apart from that no new inclusions were made except the disastrous decision to select Khurram Manzoor who didn’t even play the PSL. As expected the Asia cup campaign was a big disaster, Pakistan lost to India after getting bowled out for under 90, Pakistan lost to Bangladesh and you could see that the energy needed to win was lacking. Shahid Afridi’s captaincy was facing a lot of flak. Before the Asia cup he had lost t20 series against New Zealand and England. But the only sensible decision was to let him continue till the World cup and back him fully.
The T20 World Cup started in India and once again the performance by Pak was terrible. After mauling Bangladesh in the first match, Pakistan lost the next three matches showing little fight back and this proved to be end of Waqar Younis’s position as head coach Pakistan. The future looked bleak, the team already down; the question was how to get back the flair of Pakistani cricket?
The PCB played its master stroke although it was more of a desperation move. Sarfraz Ahmed the Karachi fighter, who was known to win throughout his career and the first PSL showed his captaincy skills, was made the Captain of the t20. Little did anyone know that this was going to change the way Pakistan played.
The first T20 Pak played under Sarfraz was against England at Old Trafford. Pakistan won a one-sided contest and the pair of Sharjeel khan and Khalid Lateef looked destructive and the Pakistan bowled their own self. It felt as if a belief was coming back. the next series against the World champions West Indies showed a dominant Pakistan after a long time. A 3-0 white wash and some extraordinary bowling performances showed that out team can be built around a strong bowling attack. Even though Pakistan was rocked by the PSL spot fixing scandal but having a captain like Sarfraz meant that the team would not suffer as much. Pakistan was not to play another T20 match until the return series against the Windies which Pakistan won 3-1 and Shadab khan rocked the Windies side. For once it seemed that the PSL was stating to bear fruits.
The stakes of Sarfraz as a captain had risen after the famous CT victory and how the he has built around a young team with a blend of experience. Pakistan was on a high and in came the historic world 11 t20 to be played in Pakistan. The world 11 boasted players of world-class quality in Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Imran tahir. It was a wonderful opportunity for the young guns of the team to play their first series in Pakistan. the result was the same, Pakistan won 2-1 and further enhanced its reputation as being one of the best bowling sides. The next series against Sri Lanka was another clean sweep for Sarfraz and this 3-0 domination catapulted Pakistan to the top spot in the ICC rankings for the first time.
Let us look at the statistical side of the domination by Pakistan. Since the T20 world cup 2016. Pakistan has won 12 games out of 14 with a win percentage of 86%. While batting Pakistan’s run rate was 7.57 during 2014-2016 but under Sarfraz it has improved to 7.74. However, the biggest change had been the bowling performance of Pakistan. from April 2014 to April 2016 the Pakistani bowlers gave away 7.78 runs per over but under Sarfraz they have given away 6.85 runs per over and are currently the only team to give away under 7 runs per over since t20 world cup 2016 among all test playing nations. During April 2014-2016 Pakistan took 136 wickets in 24 matches but under Sarfraz they have taken 104 wickets in just 14 matches. Under Sarfraz Pakistan has lost 2 matches while defending the score but interestingly they have not lost a single match while chasing which shows how good of a bowling captain Sarfraz is. Pakistan have never chased a score of 150+ under Sarfraz and have conceded 150+ thrice all against the world 11.
It is such a change in Pakistan’s position as a limited overs side that after the t20 world cup 2016 when the team was at an all-time low and there were concerns if this team can really beat the odds, Sarfraz was there to take the charge of the sinking ship and with his young battalion of talented soldiers which include Hassan Ali, Rumman Raees, Fahim Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Usman Shinwari and Shadab Khan have done a remarkable job. The meteoric rise of Pakistan as the number 1 ranked t20 side is no coincidence because the captain just wants to win. He gives his men the freedom to express and play their hearts out. Once facing humiliation, a year and a half ago, this team has gone leaps and bounds to achieve the top slot. However, it takes great deal of work to rise to the top but greater deal to sustain it. They have proved to be the best and there is sufficient evidence to believe that they will fight it out to sustain their position. The road is not easy, it should not be, but this is what makes a player, a champion and a champion, a legend. For all the talks of Pakistan not facing the top-tier teams en-route to their number 1 ranking, it does not matter because right now they deserve to be the best and they will prove themselves when the time comes.
Written By Mohammed Kaab Baig.