• 14 Apr - 20 Apr, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

They came with much fanfare – the West Indies or Windies as they wanted themselves to be called. That, of course, left many wondering whether the West Indian Board, cognisant of the fact that this was a B class team they had sent, did not want the name of West Indies sullied.

Whatever their requests for name allocation, the official scoreboards still read Pakistan vs West Indies. And it was treated as T20 Internationals by the ICC, who sent their official match referee to the series. And the results will show a woeful performance by the visitors that led to many online memes. Some were truly disparaging while others were less so. But other than the thank you placards for the visitors from the fans, there was little appreciation of the cricket that was played.

Several reasons were ascribed for this truly horrid showing. First was jet lag which seemed to make sense, especially as the men in maroon improved with every match they played. After all flying in less than 24 hours before the match after being in the air some 18 hours was daunting enough. To then wake up on disoriented Saturday morning and have some exercise and net practice must have been excruciating on the bodies. And finally to turn up at the stadium and play a proper international was the final nail in the coffin. As a result, they bowled all over the place and played their shots with no sense of timing.

Second was the fragility of the touring team. Most of their top players – Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Shai Hope, Jason Holder, Carlos Braithwaite to name a few refused to come. Only Marlon Samuels turned up from the batting line up that played the final of the ICC World Cup qualifier a week earlier in Zimbabwe. And of the bowlers the rookie Keemo Paul was willing to make the trip. On top of that, their spinner Veerasammy Permaul was injured in the very first game after bowling just three balls leaving the tourists with 12 players to choose from in the next two games.

Third reason for their abominable performance was the strength and form of the Pakistan side. Since taking over the T20 captaincy, Sarfraz had led his team to six series win in T20 bilateral series. On the other hand, Pakistani players were all in top gear from the PSL, the final of which had been played on this very ground a week earlier. So, they were playing together as a national team for the first time since returning from New Zealand, but they had played together in bits and parts in the franchises.

Fourth, of course, was the advantage of home ground. Not that this Pakistan team would not have beaten this West Indian team on any other ground. But the excitement and happiness of playing an international match in front of the Karachi crowd added to the adrenalin of the green shirts. They were also used to the pitch as most had played on a similar one a week back, including Hussain Talat and Asif Ahmed. Even those who hadn’t played the final, such as Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam such tracks were what they normally encounter in domestic cricket. Same went for the Pakistani spinners like Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz who are used to the low bounce here when they play for their departments at home.

So, what was it that Pakistan gained from the visit of an international team? Would arrival and departure of low key names be a credible basis for PCB to show to Cricket Australia, ECB and BCCI that playing cricket in Pakistan is safe? That too under a security cordon around the stadium that is unimaginable in these countries?

Najam Sethi needs to be credited for bringing home the PSL playoffs, final and then the West Indies, but for all practical purposes the organisation of the match was done by the Army, Rangers and Sindh Police under the provincial interior ministry. The stadium sits at the heart of the city and closing of roads around it meant huge detours and jams that resulted in aggregation of millions of losses to the commuters through these roads. Not to mention the closure of businesses near the stadium.

PCB and Pakistan cricket, nevertheless, rejoice at the fact that Pakistan has broken away with a four point lead at the top of the ICC T20 team rankings. Before this series, they were joint first with Australia. In many ways, it has been a well-deserved position at the top, for the team has excelled in the shorter format. Even when they lost the ODI series 0-5 in New Zealand, they still managed to win the T20 series 2-1 though most of the players were the same.

So great joy for Pakistan and for those who say, rightly of course, that this was a sub-standard team. One can say that a good number of runs were made by Hussain Talat and Asif Ahmed who before this series were not a part of the team’s first unit. Then Hussain Talat also took wickets, as well as Shinwari and Shaheen Afridi.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the greatest joy experienced came in the shape of the PSL final. It almost made an equally mentionable affair of playoffs in Lahore to be downplayed. And there were two games in Lahore compared to the one in Karachi.

There too foreign players like Darren Sammy, Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan, Joe Denly, Colin Ingram, Ravi Bopara, Rilee Rossouw, Thisara Perera and Mahmudullah were on show despite security fears mouthed by Kevin Pietersen and Shane Watson as reasons not to come to Pakistan. To be sure Quetta Gladiators missed them terribly in their one run loss.

But to the Karachi final that was covered by the media in no less frenzy and preparation than they did the Champions Trophy Final in the summer of 2017. Yes it was a Sunday so the roads shutdown on the day did not affect as many. But it must be remembered that it began on the Saturday. Yet Karachiites did not complain, in fact, they came in drives despite the hardship of parking a couple of miles away and either walking or coming crammed in the shuttle service.

The cricket was fantastic too. And though the initial target seemed reachable by Islamabad midway through the second innings, the surge of wickets that fell brought the game to an even keel. As such it was fitting that a young Pakistan struck those three sixes that sealed the fate of the game. It was akin to Carlos Braithwaite’s four consecutive sixes in the World Twenty20 Final in 2016 and no less exhilarating for the neutral Karachi crowd.

Yet one felt sad for Darren Sammy who had done so much to project Pakistan and the safety of playing here. Not just this time but the previous year also when he had come fearlessly to play the PSL2 final in Lahore.

All in all, they were good ten days for Pakistan cricket. The best part was the almost flawless organisation of the PSL final and the three match T20 series. Cricket had at last come home to feast. •