What happens when Pakistan hit rock bottom
Pakistan cricket fans were excited to witness the full-fledged return of international cricket to their country with New Zealand and England set to visit the Asian giants after more than a decade.
A second-tier Kiwi side arrived in Pakistan on September 11 and had to play three ODIs and five T20Is from September 17 to October 3. However, just a couple of hours before the start of the first ODI, New Zealand Cricket (NZC) announced the cancellation of the tour due to a ‘security threat’.
Later, it was revealed that the New Zealand government was communicated about the ‘imminent threat’ by an intelligence alliance, 5 Eyes, comprising security agencies of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States. Despite several requests from Pakistan, NZC refused to share any details of the perceived threat publicly or privately.
A couple of days later, England also pulled out of their historic tour to Pakistan, where the men’s team were to visit the country after 2005 and the women’s team were to play here for the first time.
Interestingly, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) did not cite security as the reason for withdrawing from the tour, instead, they emphasised the physical and mental well-being of their cricketers.
Though it is a huge setback for Pakistan cricket and the fans have been utterly disappointed, this tragedy has instilled a new sense of hope and faith.
The same fans who were hurling abuse and allegations on the selection committee for selecting a squad, which they believed was not good enough to even qualify for the semi-finals, are now hoping for the second T20 World Cup triumph.
The reason for such positivity is that historically when Pakistan have hit the floor, they have stood up. They have stood up stronger than ever. They have announced themselves as a force to reckon.
Impressive run in WT20 after Woolmer’s untimely death
The year 2007 was one of the murkiest years for Pakistan cricket. The game in the country was mauled forfeiture of a Test match in August 2006 by the then captain Inzamam-Ul-Haq at The Oval.
About a couple of months later, the Green Caps’ fast-bowling duo of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were banned from cricket by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) for 24 and 12 months, respectively, for consuming a banned substance.
The Men-In-Green were under a lot of stress when they headed to the World Cup 2007 in the West Indies. The 1992 world champions lost their opening game against the host by 54 runs and were later pinned by the world cup debutants Ireland.
It was bad, but the worst was yet to come. On the night of Ireland’s defeat, on March 18, Pakistan’s head coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in the bathroom of Jamaica Pegasus hotel’s room 374.
The cricket fraternity was shaken to the core, there were speculations that the South African was strangled to death as he was about to reveal details regarding match-fixing in his new book. Several Pakistan players and support staff were interrogated by the Scotland Yard.
Pakistan cricket was in shambles. Any other side of the world would have taken years to recover from the series of events and the tragedy that had just taken place.
However, Pakistan were quick to bounce back. Under the new coach Geoff Lawson and captain Shoaib Malik, just after six months of the tragic death of Woolmer, they marched to the final of World T20 2007, where they dominated all the teams except their arch-rivals, India.
Standing tall in Lord’s post terrorist attack
The country was already starving for quality international cricket as England, Australia, New Zealand and India were not visiting due to security threats.
The already dire situation took a further dent when masked terrorists, on 02 March 2009, attacked the bus carrying Sri Lankan cricketers to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to resume action on the third day of the second Test.
Five Sri Lankan players, including Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Samaraweera, Tharanga Paravitarana, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara had sustained major and minor injuries, while six security personnel and two civilians were killed.
The catastrophic incident had left cricket stadiums in the country barren. Fans were gutted. It seemed like a tragic end to a fairytale love story between a cricket-crazy nation and the gentlemen’s game.
However, giving up that easy is just not a Pakistani thing. The Men-in-Green regrouped themselves for the mega T20I tournament, which was to be played just in three months.
Pakistan were determined to once again emerge as a powerful cricketing nation. A team that the cricketing world needs. A unit that fans around the world love to watch. An opponent who you need to beat to call yourself the best.
Under the leadership of Younis Khan, Pakistan, who were facing nerve-wracking issues off the field, went on to lift the World T20 2009 trophy at the home of cricket, Lord’s.
From tainted to world’s best
The cricket deprived nation was hit with another severe blow when their trio, captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, was accused of spot-fixing in August 2010.
It was revealed during a sting operation of News of the World that the then 17-year-old pace sensation and 28-year-old right-arm pacer would bowl deliberate no-balls at Lord’s.
The investigation found Butt, Amir and Asif guilty of spot-fixing and were banned from cricket for ten, seven and five years, respectively, in 2011.
The three booked were the best players of the lot. Pakistan were left with a huge void to fill.
In those crises, Misbah Ul Haq took the reins of a depleted and demoralised unit and started rebuilding it.
A unit that did not have the top talent of the country, but their determination was praiseworthy. A unit that had no place to call their home, but had the entire world to win.
It was Misbah’s grit, Younis’s defiance, Junaid Khan’s hard work, Saeed Ajmal’s magic, Sarfraz Ahmed’s flamboyance, Asad Shafiq’s resilience and Azhar Ali’s courage that carried a ‘homeless and tainted’ Pakistan team to Test glory in about six years.
For the first time since 2003, when the new ICC Men’s Test Team Rankings system was introduced, Pakistan had reached the top of the table and received the prestigious Test mace in Gaddafi Stadium from ICC Chief Executive David Richardson.
Bottom-ranked team’s miraculous win
Pakistan registered an emphatic victory in the Champions Trophy 2017, where they crushed the arch-rivals India in the final in Edgbaston Stadium.
No one expected the Men-in-Green to put up any significant performance during the campaign. They were ranked at the eighth position in the ICC Men’s ODI Team Rankings, the last in the eight-nation tournament. They had barely qualified for the event. Pakistan team was arguably going from their worst phase in ODI cricket.
The side was relatively young. They had a new captain in Sarfaraz Ahmed who just had one full series as the team’s 50-over captain.
Not much was expected of the team when the tournament began and it felt like the fears of the fans will turn into reality once the Shaheens were hammered by their arch-rivals in their first game of the tournament.
Once again, when Pakistan’s back was against the ropes and they had nowhere to run, they made a comeback.
They defeated South Africa, Sri Lanka and England on the trot to schedule another nail-biting contest against the Men-In-Blue, but this time for the title.
Contrary to everyone’s prediction, Sarfaraz and his boys just blew away the opponents when they least expected to do so and won the Champions Trophy for the first time.
Another conquest on the cards?
Yet again, after the Blackcaps and England backed off from touring Pakistan due to alleged security concerns, it almost feels that the Men-in-Green have hit the rock bottom, again.
Though current and former national players and the board have responded aggressively to these actions, the most fitting reply to the world would be winning the all-important T20 World Cup, which is set to start in a month.
Pakistan have got what it takes to shine bright in these dark times. They have the purpose, the firepower and the skill to achieve the feat. They have accomplished unimaginable in the past and there is no reason why the rest of the country should not hope for another triumph from the cornered tigers.
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