It may have taken twenty five years but the skilled rabble has returned with a vengeance.
Before the 1992 World Cup I described the Pakistan team under the captaincy of Imran Khan as a skilled rabble. I concluded after looking over the regimented Graham Gooch led squad that, while my head said England my heart said Pakistan.
Imran’s team won out and boy did the skill play a big part with the most talented of them all, Wasim Akram leading the charge.
Throw forward to the recently completed Champions Trophy final between those fiercest of rivals India and Pakistan. Again I felt that Pakistan were a skilled rabble and India the well-drilled unit. However, I concluded there was a little less emphasis on Pakistan’s skill level and a higher degree of rabble. This time my head said India but because of the warmth of the hospitality I’d received while covering the tournament from Islamabad, again my heart said Pakistan.
Displaying a far greater level of skill than I thought they possessed and a reasonable level of discipline, Pakistan absolutely walloped India in the final by a margin of 180 runs. I guess the moral of the story is in future I should follow my heart.
Pakistan confirmed my thoughts on computer rankings by making a mockery of their number eight position and overcoming South Africa, England and India, three of the pre-tournament favourites to clinch the trophy. Not only did they beat three of the big four of the tournament heavyweights but in the case of England and India they did it emphatically.
Pakistan thoroughly deserved their victory as they played with a high degree of skill, a lot of thoughtful aggression and the passion that is so often evident in their best teams. They were brilliantly led by the aggressive thinking Sarfraz Ahmed who became more and more his own man as the tournament evolved and his confidence grew.
And any time the team needed inspiration, Sarfraz only had to turn to their leading wicket-taker Hasan Ali to provide a breakthrough and an injection of enthusiasm. The selectors also deserve credit for improving the flair in the team by including attacking opener Fakhar Zaman and the talented and incredibly mature leg-spinner, eighteen year old Shadab Khan.
This trophy winning team was the epitome of Pakistan cricket; it was talented, it was unpredictable and they played with flair and passion.
In an era where so much of the game appears to be a case of follow the leader rather than players following their instincts, Pakistan are a joy to watch because so much of their cricket seems to be ad lib.
Sport is popular because you never know the result until the final bell; there is no script, or at least you hope there isn’t. Not only don’t Pakistan play to a script but they often don’t seem to have a plan but in totally overwhelming India they expertly combined skill, flair and thoughtful cricket.
There are many cases in sport where the successful teams are mimicked by others trying repeat the formula. If that is the case, then it can only be hoped that other teams follow the example set by Pakistan.
Despite not playing international cricket at home and apparently having a less than ideal first-class system in place, Pakistan have taken on the world and beaten them. Perhaps this proves there’s still a place in the game for players who follow their instincts.