0 comments   |     by IKRAM SEHGAL on July 14 , 2017

Precariously making the cut for the eighth and final spot on the ICC ODI rankings, Pakistan came into the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy tournament as rank underdogs. Routed by India in their very first match by a whopping 124 runs, almost everyone gave up on Pakistan. One of the truly great comebacks in history than started unfolding before our unbelieving eyes, the stuff of which miracles are made.  With raw talent coming upto its full potential, there was nothing miraculous about their real-life performance. Given a remote chance of winning against the South Africans, the No. 1 ODI team in the world, Pakistan won by 19 runs under the Duckworth–Lewis (D/L) method. Reduced to 162 for 7 against Sri Lanka, indomitable Sarfraz played a Captain’s innings, scoring 61 to take the team home alongwith the steadfast Muhammad Amir standing like a rock contributing 28 valuable runs.

Against unbeaten confident England, the favourites on their home soil, Sarfraz’s boys the semi-final was a major upset. With masterful dominance, Pakistan won by eight wickets with nearly 13 overs to spare. While cricket pundits took note of their talent (and new-found consistency), they were still not given any chance against mighty India boasting such big names as Kohli, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Jadeja, Ashwin, Rohit, Dhawan, etc. Veterans Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Hafeez are mere shadows of what they once were.  India has a tremendous record chasing totals so when Kohli put Pakistan into bat, with him and Rohit Sharma in form, both acknowledged as the possibly best batsmen in the world, many thought it was all over bar the shouting. Former Pakistan Navy sailor Fakhar Zaman had other ideas, this unknowns’ innings of 114 was simply magnificent.  Without Misbah’s restraining influence Azhar blossomed, even outscoring Fakhar till running himself out. Babar Azam and Hafeez helped taking Pakistan to a massive 338 for 4. Shoaib Malik was dismissed for a low score, his contribution in four championship innings totaling 54 runs. At his devastating best, Mohammad Amir tore the heart out of the Indian batting, sending back Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Shekhar Dhawan in the first 15 overs. Pandya’s hard hitting cameo notwithstanding, not one Indian batsman had an answer to Amir, Hassan Ali, Junaid Khan and Shadab Khan, the youngest player to ever play in an ICC final.

A cricket crazy country, our chequered history of cricket is full of words like ‘controversial’, ‘nepotism’, ‘corruption’, favouritism, etc. Merit is a disqualifier in Pakistan, young players who show promise seldom get selected. The list of young promising players sidetracked is almost endless. An excellent test Captain, Misbah carried his “tuk-tuk” influence into team selection for the ODIs and T20s. Anyone remembers Sami Aslam, the exciting left-handed opener who scored plenty of runs in England last year? And why has Sharjeel Khan been sidelined for “match-fixing” without adequate evidence? Why are Shoaib Malik and Wahab Riaz still making the ODI eleven with all-rounders Haris Sohail and Fahim Ashraf sitting on the benches? The decline in our cricket standards is because those running PCB have no first-hand knowledge of cricket. Shahryar Khan is way past his bedtime and while one must commend Najam Sethi’s tremendous business acumen organizing the PSL, we need someone with profound knowledge of cricket running PCB.  Otherwise they become susceptible to manipulation and pressure applied by the non-cricketing mafia staffing PCB.

India “principled” stance is that because we are the “ground zero” of terrorism it will not play cricket with Pakistan in India, in Pakistan or even a third country. India’s sheer hypocrisy has no problems playing Pakistan in international championships. If they had forfeited the Oval match “on principle”, they would not have to face the huge embarrassment at the drubbing they got.  Nevertheless one must commend Kohli’s sportsman’s spirit, despite his acute disappointment he had fulsome praise for Pakistan.

Trying to isolate Pakistan in cricket in particular and sports in general, the 2008 Mumbai attacks gave India the pretext to call off their scheduled cricket tour in 2009, Sri Lanka (SL) was invited to offset this vacuum. On the third day of the Second Test match in Lahore, on the morning of March 3, 2009, a dozen armed gunmen ambushed the SL team’s bus near Liberty Market. Meticulously planned, the militants fired so as not to kill any SL players. The bus driver, Mohammad Khalil sped the Sri Lankans to safety but eight Pakistani security personnel and civilians were killed. Given the amount of food and water carried by the terrorists, their firing pattern aiming high and not at the passenger side of the bus was meant not to kill but to hold the cricketers hostage. India’s Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) had given birth to and trained the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE). At that time the LTTE Chief, Prabhakharan was finally cornered by the Sri Lankan Army at Killonochi. India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee had tried for weeks to persuade Sri Lanka to let Prabhakharan go.  Was the timing and target of this “false flag operation” (like the “Ganga Incident” in Feb 1971) just an amazing coincidence? The primary purpose of outsourcing to local terrorists was to (1) free Prabhakharan in exchange for the Sri Lankan cricketers and the secondary purpose (2) isolate Pakistan in sports.  The match-fixing charges on which Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif were “fixed” out of international cricket was also another “false-flag” operation.  While Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were willing participants, the real target was to get the surging young talent Mohammad Amir out of the Pakistan bowling attack.  The bookie who fingered them has been jailed for fraud in a different case, RAW can still use the skills of a whole range of bookies to compromise our young talent.  The Indian Premier League (IPL) where Pakistani players are not allowed to play is part of the conspiracy not to let our far more talented cricketers get experience playing the many foreign ‘stars’ in the IPL.

We have two solid years before the 2019 World Cup in England to identify and prepare the squad on pure merit.  The cricket team is a tremendous case study for the country. Given due space, our talented cricketers blossomed match after match with awesome spirit and élan to demolish the tag of simply being a mercurial and unpredictable team. If merit is not sacrificed on the altar of personal motivation, nepotism and greed, nothing can stop our talent and spirit making us the great country we are (the writer is a defence and security analyst).


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