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He took some convincing, but once Sarfraz Ahmed joined in the deafening chorus of ‘Mauka Mauka’ from his balcony, the residential block in central Karachi came unglued. Thousands of fans had lined up the street (one they’d relaid and decorated overnight) and many climbed up rooftops to catch a glimpse of the Pakistan captain and the Champions Trophy held aloft.
As Sarfraz informed them: “This is your trophy and we won it just because of you.”
It was their trophy. The bunch of relative-unknowns were their new heroes, and Pakistan not just wanted to learn more about them but let the world know as well. As the cricketers traversed the nation to return to their hometowns, every video clip, every photo found its way to prominent news portals and social media, making the countless stories hard-to-miss.
“You would never guess that Sarfraz is Pakistan’s cricket captain,” a neighbour told a local TV channel. “He is very simple, he likes to eat with the guards. Usko kabhi guroor me nahi dekha.”
The 30-year-old who became the ODI captain in February and his young Pakistan team — which included nine players playing their maiden ICC event — were ranked eighth of the eight teams and weren’t many bookmakers’ favourites. But a typically mercurial fortnight saw Pakistan record their biggest ODI triumph since the 1992 World Cup.
While four of the squad — Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Azhar Ali — stayed back in England, Sarfraz and debutante pacer Rumman Raees, touched down in Karachi in the wee hours of Tuesday and were welcomed by fans and the mayor and Sindh sports minister, who gifted the players a traditional Sindhi shawls and caps.
Fakhar Zaman, who scored a century in the final, received a similar reception in Peshawar. Even before the 27-year-old arrived at his village of Katlang near Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the mayor had renamed the ‘Katlang chowk’ to ‘Fakhar Zaman Chowk’. Once there, he took a dip in a canal, as tweeted by a fellow villager.
But perhaps the one who most enjoyed his ride back home was the man of the tournament Hasan Ali. The young pacer, along with Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf and Ahmed Shehzad, were greeted with a red-carpet ceremony arranged by the Lahore government.
Ali’s brother then arranged and live-streamed a rally from Gujranwala to their village of Ladhe Wala Waraich. The hour-long journey saw traditional horse dancing, chants of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and hundreds of fans showering Ali’s car with rose petals. Initially restricting himself to waves and smiles from inside the vehicle, the 23-year-old climbed atop the car for an impromptu rendition of his now signature celebration – misunderstood by news anchors for “starting a generator.”
“Generator toh hume pasand hi nahi. Uska shor bohot zyaada hai,” explains Ali’s mother. “He’s young and hot-blooded. That’s him telling the batsman that I have bombed you.”
Once home, she shielded Ali away from the mob of relatives, villagers and journalists.
“He has given me an early Eid gift by winning the tournament. Thak gaya hai vo, maine bola jaake soja.”
Malik the motivator:
Fakhar Zaman has credited former captain Shoaib Malik for inspiring and motivating the team after it’s disastrous start to the tournament. Zaman said Malik had boosted the team’s morale with his inspirational talk after morale-shattering loss against the arch-rivals in the tournament opener. “Shoaib Malik gave an inspirational talk at the meeting and he said things about our proud cricket history that really hit us. I think it breathed new life into our campaign. We decided at that meeting that we will play all remaining matches with a changed approach and be more aggressive,” he said.
The young Pakistani players have become instant millionaires after a string of cash and other rewards announced. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced to give cash award of ten million rupees to each player and invited them for a lunch. The PCB also announced that besides the cash bonus of 29 million rupees due to the team as part of their central contracts, the Board would also give each player a cash bonus of one million rupees. The team has already pocketed prize money of around 200 million rupees from the ICC for winning the trophy. Famous builder Riaz Malik has also announced cash prizes of one million rupees each and plots for the players while others are slated to follow soon.
Celebration turns sour:
The country-wide jubilation turned into a day of mourning for Syed Qazim Raza Zaidi’s family, who lost their eldest son, Hussain, due to the aerial firing in the name of celebrations for Pakistan’s victory, The Express Tribune reported. It was not an isolated incident as several people were reported to have been injured in celebratory aerial firing. Nearly a dozen people were injured in Karachi itself as residents resorted to indiscriminate aerial firing following Pakistan cricket team’s triumph. Several were reported to be injured in aerial firing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.