URDU

Young guns or old guard

Who deserves praise for Pakistan's T20I dominance?

PHOTO: AFP

Eleven series, a total of 33 matches with 29 wins and only four defeats, seven clean sweeps, and currently on a winning streak of nine consecutive matches, just two away from Afghanistan's 11 wins on the trot.

The numbers above say a lot about Sarfraz Ahmed and Pakistan, and their domination of the shortest format of the game which started in 2016.

Pakistan have seen a meteoric rise in their performances in T20Is. A lot of credit can be and should be given to the 31-year-old skipper, the new team management lead by Mickey Arthur and more importantly the young blokes who are performing consistently for Pakistan.

But all of this didn't become possible only due to the infusion of young, fresh legs into the team. The old guard deserves credit too.

A very few remain a part of Pakistan's limited-overs squads, only those who didn't resist the change of tide and instead swam and bathed in it and resurfaced as fresh and new.

Mohammad Hafeez is one good example.

After being made to sit out the series in Zimbabwe, he was then shunned on a couple of occasions from all squads, labelled as being 'part of the future plans' but kept away, locked away in a safe only to be pulled out when needed.

But he didn't criticise the selectors or get involved in uncalled for off-the-pitch antics, instead he went to first-class cricket and grew, he strengthened his roots, rubbed off the rust and made an astounding comeback.

The startling fact about his revival was his hands on approach. In the past, senior players in the Pakistan team sat comfortably and ruled over the peasantry — the juniors and the newbies, but he followed the script laid out by another hero of the past who reappeared as a much better player than his former self, Shoaib Malik.

Hafeez didn't look at the young guns to fire, he himself lead from the front. A century in his first Test innings against Australia, and then his swashbuckling run in the two T20I series sweeps in akin to that of Malik.

And Malik, what can one say, he has been one senior who Pakistan always needed in the team: someone to look up to, an ideal in all matters and more.

His motivational  speech after the humiliating loss against India in the Champions Trophy final did wonders for the likes of Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman and Hasan Ali — all inexperienced but raring to go, all immature but ready to learn, all new and searching for an inspiration.

But you can never praise Pakistan and forget to admire the mojo of Sarfraz.

When you look at the moment from where he picked up the team and converted it into a world class one, you just cannot resist gushing over his exuberance.

Rewind back to the 2016 tour of England and Ireland.

After a long while, Pakistan fielded three captains in three different formats — Misbahul Haq for Tests, Azhar Ali for ODIs and Sarfraz asked to lead the team in the one-off T20I for the very first time.

Misbah did what he does best; Pakistan drew the four-Test series 2-2. Azhar did what his rein in ODIs in best known for, failing. Four ODIs losses on the trot, but Sarfraz was waiting for his moment.

A 90-run player-of-the-match innings helped Pakistan avoid an ODI series whitewash, but he wasn't finished, not yet. His immaculate use of his bowlers stunned England as they could only muster up 135 in the one-off T20I, and the visitors chased it comfortably with nine wickets remaining.

Sarfraz had announced his arrival, and sooner than later PCB and everyone else realised that he was the leader that Pakistan always wanted: clever, proactive and most importantly a players' captain, someone the team admired, adored and followed blindly.

With such a pleasing mix of experience and fervour, of spin and pace, of sloggers and stayers, and a captain who never wants to hear no for an answer, Pakistan are here to dominate the T20I scene in the near future, but as it is always said, there is always only one team that can beat a side with such momentum — they themselves.

Pakistan need to avoid that!