Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pakistan Cricket is Back with a Bang!

Tests: 1-0
ODIs: 4-1
T20I: 1-0

When was the last time you remember Pakistan dominate a cricket series like this?

Been a long time, hasn't it?

But there is more to it than what the score lines may tell you. Two of the ODIs and the T20 were come from behind victories. These were matches that had a loss written all over them before the boys in green bounced back and delivered the knock out punches to the Sri Lankans.

In the 3rd ODI in Dubai, Sri Lanka were cruising at 168-3 in 35 overs. The captain, Dilshan, and the former captain, Sangakkara, had already put on 106 runs for the 2nd wicket.

With 89 runs needed in 15 overs with 7 wickets remaining, and Jayawardene and Chandimal at the crease, the game had a Sri Lankan win written all over it.

But then, Saeed Ajmal struck with the first delivery of the batting powerplay and Jayawardene returned to the pavilion. Pakistan then sent Sri Lanka's next 6 batsmen packing for another 68 runs, to win the game by 21 runs.

We all thought that was a special win, but we did not know what Sharjah had in store for us.

Pakistan were returning to Sharjah for an ODI after 8 long years.

Me, and most of my friends who went to school in the UAE, grew up watching the heroics of Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aqib Javed, Inzamam-Ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, and Abdul Razzak at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium during the 80s and 90s.

Sharjah had provided us with some mind blowing wins for Pakistan cricket. Who can forget Miandad's last ball 6 off Chetan Sharma, or Waqar Younis' last ball yorker to send Ian Bishop's stump flying back to win by 1 run, or Wasim Akram's hatrick in the Australasia final against Australia, or Abdul Razzak's 5-for against Sri Lanka to tie the game when the Lankan's required only 17 runs with 7 wickets still in hand!

There were last ball thrillers that Pakistan won, and there were games that Pakistan totally dominated.

Sharjah was Pakistan's ground. We could never lose there. And we rarely did.

So when ODI cricket involving Pakistan returned to Sharjah on 20th November, we all waited with anticipation for Pakistan's favourite hunting ground to come to life again.

Come to life it did, and how!

Defending a meagre total of 200, which would have been much lower had Shahid Afridi not played the most sensible ODI innings he has ever played.

At 71-5, Pakistan looked down and out when Afridi walked to the crease. But for the next 20 overs, Afridi not only entertained, but also managed to get Pakistan out of trouble through his knock of 75.

The better comeback was still to come.

Sangakkara and Jayawardene had posted 50s and a 100 run partnership, which had ensured a Sri Lanka win. So much so that with both of them at the crease, and Sri Lanka placed on 155-3 from 37.3 overs, Russell Arnold uttered the words "prayers won't help Pakistan now".

Who could blame Arnold for saying something as cocky as that. After all Sri Lanka required only 46 more runs with 13 overs to play and their two best batsmen at the crease. And another 5 to come!

But this was Sharjah.

Afridi got one to turn viciously from around the wicket that rattled Sangakkara's stumps.

Sri Lanka 155-4.

What followed, was pure carnage.

Afridi got 4 more, and Ajmal the other 2, and Sri Lanka were bowled out for 174 losing their last 7 batsmen for 19 runs!

Arnold was made to eat his words... and how!

This was a win that only Pakistan could pull off. A win that only a crowd at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium could witness.

It was a win as special as the ones where Miandad, Waqar, and Razzak had pulled off the unimaginable.

And it was possible due to one Shahid Khan Afridi. Boom Boom!

The match showed what Sharjah was all about, what Sharjah and Pakistan were all about. It was the fitting return for ODI cricket to the home of ODI cricket - Sharjah!

It was Miandad's last ball 6 in the mid 80s at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium that gave the Pakistan players and their fans the belief that their team was invincible. We knew that Pakistan could come back from any situation and win a game.

That belief was lost during the last decade, but after Sharjah once again, that belief is back with a bang.

The T20I in Abu Dhabi this last Friday provided the evidence that that belief was back. Back among the players, and among the fans.

Chasing 142 in 20 overs, Pakistan were precariously placed at 90-4 in 15 overs. The target looked steep with 52 to get off 5 overs. Throughout the last 5 overs, Pakistan required a run rate of 10 runs per over.

Yet, not a single soul out of the 30,000 fans that flocked the stadium (with a capacity of only 25,000 mind you) thought that Pakistan would lose the game.

All of them had the belief that Pakistan could do it. We were tense, no doubt. I was in extreme stress at one stage, but even I knew that we were going to get there some how.

And we did. In the final over with 3 balls to spare.

It was an awesome match to witness at the stadium, but what was more awesome was seeing a jam packed stadium, full of enthusiastic Pakistani fans, who knew that their team is a force to reckon with!

We were a huge contingent watching the game together - Atif Butt, Jawad Qazi, Asad Saghir, Bulund Akhter, Waqas Siddique, Waqas Sheikh, Adeel Iqbal, Saad Nathani, Hammad Ahmer, Qazi Owais, Kiran Khan, Mashaell Akhter, Farees Shah, and many more.

I can vouch that every single one of them never lost faith during the game and knew that Pakistan was going to come out on top.

The best part is that all of these people have grown up watching the Pakistan of the 80s and 90s do the unbelievable in Sharjah.

And they were there to witness the turnaround once again.

The Boys in Green are back. Back with a bang!

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