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What’s so special in Sarfraz?

It was the year 2014 when Pakistan toured Sri Lanka for a test match series that consisted of two matches. The conditions were so adverse for the Pakistan batsmen that the top clout of the batting could not make any significant impact. Batsmen such as Younis, Misbah, Hafeez and Khurram struggled a lot. The conditions were just too tough for the batmsen as the Sri Lankan bowlers were making pristine use of the favourable home conditions.

But then a person rose to the occasion and fame, who made his impact in the most adverse of the conditions. He was none other than the underrated and little cared for Sarfraz Ahmad. Two matches meant that each of the batsmen had a maximum of 4 innings to play. And his 4 innings, the scores of Sarfraz were: 55, 52, 103 and 55; 265 runs in 4 innings – 3 fifties and a blistering hundred in unbearable circumstances at an astonishing average of 66.25. Pakistan were clean swept by the Lankans but the only silver lining was the one and only Sarfraz Ahmad.

Then came the CWC 2015. As a consequence of an utterly flawed policy, Sarfraz was benched for some initial games and a makeshift resource was made to wear the gloves. The policy was destined to fail and it happened. The makeshift keeper dropped Kohli in the game against India and made several lapses in the game against the Windies. Pakistan lost both the games by huge margins.

A sane advice then floated in the camp and Sarfraz was then brought back to the team. Opening the innings against the Proteas, an attack that included the likes of Steyn, Morkel, Abbott and Imran Tahir, Sarfraz played a run-a-ball 49 and took a-record 6 six catches while keeping the stumps. He went on to score 101* against the Irish men in the game to follow, that happened to be the only 100 by a Pakistan batsman in the tournament.

Then came PSL 1, where he was given the job to lead the under-dog Quetta Gladiators. It was a team that was the most underrated one – it lacked big names – it was in dearth of advertisement campaign and sponsor support. But, it had two positives that no other team in the tournament had; an absolutely fantastic mentor in the form of the exuberant Sir Viv Richards, and a truly dynamic captain in the shape of Sarfraz Ahmad.

Sarfraz led his team brilliantly. He gave them the spirit and belligerence that was missing in all the other teams in the League. From chasing 200 against the Lahore Qalandars to defeating Peshawar Zalmi in the ecstatic 1st playoff of the League by one run, Quetta Gladiators made an impeccable impact on the League and gave the League the flavour it needed to flourish.

Pakistan got badly humiliated in the Asia Cup 2016 and wt20 2016, winning just 2 games out 7, facing crushing defeats from Bangladesh, India (twice), Australia and New Zealand. Everything was in total disarray, and then Sarfraz was given the job to lead the t20 team.

He led the team for the first time in the England tour in the one-off t20 game, where Pakistan managed to defeat the English quite convincingly, courtesy ballistic batting from Shirjeel and Khalid, sumptuous display of bowling by Hassan Ali and nevertheless, the bellicose captaincy by Sarfraz Ahmad.

Then came the second edition of PSL – PSL 2. Once again, the squad was underrated, but this time around, the hopes were high; and they didn’t disappoint their fans. Quetta Gladiators displayed their never-say-die policy too authoritatively that nobody could rule them out of the game at any stage. From defending a meagre 134 against Lahore Qalandars, a side that had the likes of top guns McCullum, Roy, Elliot and Umar, to chasing 200 in a game against the same side courtesy 88 off 48 by the exalted Kevin Pietersen; from authoritatively defeating Karachi Kings twice in the tournament to humbling Peshawar Zalmi in the 1st playoff, a match that happened to be the replica of the previous year’s 1st playoff, Quetta Gladiators was a team that showed courage, aggression, boldness and rock solid temperament – all courtesy two men, one of whom is the all-important skipper, Sarfraz Ahmad.

He led his side successfully in the Caribbean tour, embarrassing the Windies on their home ground in the t20 and ODI series. This was the first tour when he was given the responsibility to lead the team for a number of matches successively. He again didn’t disappoint.

Finally, came the big occasion; Champions Trophy 2017. Again the same situation arose. The side was ranked at number 8 in the world and hardly managed to qualify for the Trophy a couple of years ago. Nobody expected anything from this side and they had nothing to lose. Sarfraz had a very young squad – most of the players were new faces who had little to no experience of the international cricket (What if I tell you that two of the most impactful players in the CT17 campaign for Pakistan debuted during the tournament?).

Nevertheless, there was one man who believed that with the kind of leadership he does and with the kind of spirit he instills in his boys, Pakistan will be able to leave the world amazed. Surprisingly, it happened.

Pakistan was commandingly crushed by the Indians in the opening encounter – which made most of the fans and cricket pundits think that this tournament is not going to be any different than the previous two ICC tournaments. Nevertheless, Sarfraz had other plans.

He told his boys to stay calm and not to worry about the defeat. He told his men that it’s not the end of the tournament. He sat down with the management, chalked out a new strategy and came in an all-new attitude in the Proteas in the very next game. It was exceedingly hard to believe that these were the same boys who looked too meek against the Indians. The bowlers restricted the Proteas and the batsmen scored to such an extent that Pakistan won the rain-hit game by 19 runs (D/L). The one to look for were none other than Hassan Ali and Fakhar Zaman.

The team continued its dream in the next match against the Lankans, who were too bold after chasing 322 against India a game before. The bowlers, especially Hassan, impressed a lot and restricted the Lankans to 236. In a characteristic topsy-turvy run chase, Pakistan finally managed to chase down the target successfully, qualifying for the semi-final stage where it had to compete with the English men. The star of the chase were none other than the exciting skipper, Sarfraz Ahmad and Fakhar Zaman.

When the team had qualified for the semis, the masses had in their mind a thought that it is quite a good face-saving for the 8th ranked team to reach the semis and it should not be a surprise if the English men thrash the men in green. Once again, Sarfraz had other plans.

Nobody expected Pakistan to come out so hard at the English men at their home ground at such an important stage of the Trophy, given the fact that the English had thrashed out Pakistan a year earlier in the ODI series by 4-1 (Trivia: Pak won the last match of the series on Sep 4, 2016 courtesy some brilliant batting from Sarfraz Ahmad, that too at the very same ground the semi-final was to be held). Sarfraz came out with a very aggressive strategy, placed the fielders brilliantly, covered all the angles of the ground marvellously and made sublime bowling changes. The bowlers’ efforts coupled with the skipper’s aggression left no room for the English guns to fire and they were comprehensively defeated by 8 wickets, where Pakistan qualified for the final of an ICC event after wT20 2009 and for the first time in a Champions Trophy tournament. One of the heroes again was Fakhar Zaman.

Then came the all-important Final. It was against the arch rivals India against whom Pakistan had a very bad record recently. Masses had hopes from the team considering their recent form against top teams, but the hopes were always dwindling as people did not believe that this the men in green could beat a very well organised Indian team. Once again, Sarfraz had decided to surprise the world with his determination and courage.

Having lost the toss in the big game, Sarfraz gave confidence to his batsmen, who went out to nothing but shine. Fakhar, Azhar, Babar and Hafeez gave the Indians a treatment of a lifetime. They posted runs on the board, but the job was yet to be done. There were apprehensions around that the batting line of up the opponents is so strong that defeating Pakistan may not be a trouble for them. But the opening spell from Muhammad Aamir never let Indians settle.

He dismissed Rohit in the opening over and then took the prize wicket of the Indian skipper to jolt the cricket pundits badly. Save the short-lived massacre from Pandya, no Indian could face Pakistan bowlers convincingly. Pakistan battered the arch rivals and for the first time in the history won the Champions Trophy under the ever-dynamic captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmad.

In all these events where Sarfraz had a part to play, the one thing that is ever-evident is the commitment he has towards the game. He may not be as detailed as other captains, but what he does right is that he never lets the morale of the team go down. No matter how adverse the conditions are, he never loses hopes. He infuses such an essence of aggression and boldness in the team that they seem to know no bounds. And this is what really matters for a leader.

Considering the feats he has achieved in his career, it will be utterly safe to assume that the future of Pakistan Cricket is in very safe hands.

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About the author

Ammad Ashique

The author is an eminent cricket writer and loves to explore different dynamics of the game in the most pristine of the ways. He is a die-hard fan of Quetta Gladiators and keenly observed the team’s performance in the inaugural edition of Pakistan Super League.

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