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THE FIRST item on Sarfraz Ahmed’s to-do list not long after he’d led Pakistan to the Champions Trophy triumph was changing his return ticket. The captain had originally been booked to fly home to Karachi at the end of the tournament. But now, he like everyone else in the Pakistan team had been redirected to Lahore. Only minutes earlier, he was having his Imran Khan moment.
Twenty-five years after Imran proudly stood under the blazing floodlights of the MCG holding a world title, Sarfraz was doing the same in the fading London light, donning a dapper white blazer to boot — with Dil Dil Pakistan, the catchy team anthem, providing the perfect background soundtrack. Lahore and every other town in Pakistan had gone off the hook back in 1992, just like they did on Sunday. And it wasn’t surprising to hear Mohammad Hafeez, who provided the all-important blitz required to propel his team’s score well beyond 300, speak about his desperation to return home at the earliest for the celebrations in a spot interview at the Oval.
Big screens had been put up at various vantage points, including cinema halls, across all cities. The streets of Lahore are said to have been filled with people till the wee hours of Monday morning with blaring horns and drums creating a din through the night. The Pakistani players were creating their own din in the dressing room, dancing and jumping around with the trophy with loud slogans of “Pakistan zindabad”.
While the rest of their country was only getting warmed up in celebrating their heroes and preparing for their arrival the following day, Sarfraz & Co. had more mundane matters to take care of.
Once they were done jumping around the Oval and embracing everyone in the team and anyone with a Pakistani flag or jersey, they were back in their rooms packing for their early morning flight out of London. Not like they were allowed to do so in peace. The team hotel lobby had been turned into a sea of green with fans and supporters having occupied nearly the entire area. Even the security at the hotel, after a while, gave up on trying to restore order. It was as if even they understood the magnitude of the team’s achievement and what it meant to their fans. It took the players nearly an hour to get past the wild melee with demands for selfies, selfies with the trophy, selfies with the players holding the trophy cropping up from all corners. For once, they didn’t mind the fuss, and indulged them sumptuously.
Cricket fans in Pakistan aren’t used to celebrating much in recent times after all. The 2009 World T20 crown had been great, but somehow it never quite captured the imagination of the public like this win. And understandably so, considering they had beaten India of all teams, and that too a formidable India who had started as favourites and thumped them in their earlier encounter, in one of the most-watched cricket matches in history. And back then, when they won the title right here in England, the team still had the likes of Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi at their prime.
This was a rag-tag Pakistan team, according to many experts. A team that nobody expected to come through their group, forget make the final. Social media was obviously abuzz with congratulatory messages for the new champions with a majority making references to their World Cup win in 1992. Back then, Imran had led a team which had a nice blend of experience and raw, unfiltered talent that ended up making the difference. Sarfraz’s team wasn’t too different. If Wasim Akram had delivered on his long-touted promise then, Mohammad Amir did the same here even if their journeys to the top couldn’t have been more different. The 1992 World Cup launched the careers of Inzamam-ul Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aaqib Javed and Aamir Sohail. Hasan Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam and Shadab Khan are names that the cricket world is likely to hear about for years to come. At the same time, just like Javed Miandad and Saleem Malik in 1992, Hafeez and Shoaib Malik played vital roles in the middle order to ensure that the exuberance of youth was complemented with some battle-hardened nous and calm.
Yet, Malik, a veteran of six Champions Trophy events, seemed the most excited when a number of them turned up for the mixed zone. He came wearing a Pakistani flag as a cape only to be greeted by an equally buoyed Pakistani media contingent, many of whom had flags around them too. Malik was ironically asked to lower the flag a little so that the sponsor logo would show, and he responded saying “Theek hai Pepsi ko dekh lo,” leading to loud laughter around the room. He didn’t indulge in too many hyperboles, but his tone and demeanour in many ways summed up how much the title meant to his team and its players, both young and old. Hasan Ali, the man of the tournament for his sensational bowling exploits, had the Pakistani contingent in splits and like his reputation, did most of the talking. It eventually took an ICC official to shove him away playfully. The rest, like Junaid Khan and Ahmed Shehzad, weren’t bothered much and made the most of their time in responding to the hordes of laudatory messages on their phones.
Babar Azam described the emotion following what his team had just achieved at the Oval earlier in the day with a simple yet very evocative phrase. “Mazaa aa gaya..” he said. The 200 million Pakistani fans around the world would be nodding in agreement.