KARACHI: An elated Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said on Tuesday it was the resilience and self-belief that inspired his team to the Champions Trophy title with the most emphatic victory in the history of all ICC competitions.
Less than two days after leading the green shirts to a massive 180-run triumph against arch-rivals India in a lop-sided final at The Oval, Sarfraz arrived back in his hometown along with his wife, infant son Abdullah and team-mate Rumman Raees to a tumultuous welcome at the Jinnah International Airport in the early hours of Tuesday.
Speaking exclusively to Dawn later in the day, Sarfraz pointed out the holy month of Ramazan has delivered Pakistan another global cricketing title following the country’s grand World Cup success in 1992 under the inspiring leadership of Imran Khan.
“It is a lifetime dream of any cricketer to be part of such a momentous occasion. As a captain I couldn’t have asked more from my team. Each member deserved to be applauded for bringing glory to Pakistan.
‘It is a lifetime dream of any cricketer to be part of such a momentous occasion’
“What really impressed me and [head coach] Mickey Arthur was the attitude of each member of the squad. Not only the entire nation prayed for our success but everyone else who supported us to the hilt.
“This victory means a lot to Pakistan cricket because we went through a pretty difficult phase over the past several years. As we all know, our supporters back home have been deprived of watching us playing in front of them for over eight years now.
“And yet we have managed to keep ourselves motivated in the face of adversity,” Sarfraz observed before adding: “We had our share of problems and just about hung on to the last available spot to qualify for the Champions Trophy [Pakistan were ranked eighth in the ICC rankings on the cutoff date of Sept 30, 2016]. But now, Alhamdulillah, we are on the rise and this tremendous win has lifted Pakistan to sixth spot.
“Moreover, Pakistan are third in the ICC Twenty20 team rankings, which itself augurs well for the future. This means we are progressing in the right direction in limited-overs cricket. By the time we head to England for the 2019 World Cup, Pakistan will be a real force and serious contenders for the title Insha’Allah.
“But to achieve our goal, all of us have to work extra hard and not just sit on our laurels. There are areas where there is certainly room for improvement and as a collective unit our prime objective should be to improve ourselves as much as we can,” said the wicketkeeper-batsman.
“The Champions Trophy has also been great for the younger players in our squad. I don’t have enough words to praise Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan. They really rose to the occasion make Pakistan proud. Fakhar and Shadab in particular handled the pressure of big tournament superbly.”
The skipper lauded the telling contributions from senior bowler Mohammad Amir, who delivered a sensational opening spell to derail India’s chase with the key wickets of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan.
“Amir’s was probably one of the best spells of seam bowling I have ever seen by anyone.
After he missed the semi-final, it was a blessing in disguise as Amir came back more determined and raring to go,” Sarfraz said. “Such was his control I can tell you that no team, let alone India, could have survived that wonderful spell because of the control and variation he bowled with.”
Sarfraz revealed that he was positive Fakhar would make a big impact in the final.
“I told him that scoring 50 is not good enough [Fakhar made 31, 50 and 57 prior to the final] and you must stay at the wicket as long as possible. Because once you do that, runs will automatically increase.
“Runs at the international level are hard to come by but if you are good enough to score a 50 then why not go on to get a big one.’ I know Fakhar very closely since we had played together for Pakistan Cricket Club in Karachi and he followed my advice to the letter to score a brilliant hundred,” recalled Sarfraz.
“Our focus for the future should be on building a Pakistan team around the new players. Mickey Arthur [head coach] and the selectors also have the same mindset because we all believe this is the ideal opportunity to start preparing for the  World Cup as well as the 2018 World Twenty20.”
When asked to explain the sudden transformation following the 124-run loss to India in their opening fixture in Birmingham on June 4, Sarfraz said: “All of us were hurting at that result. We didn’t play well at all and were down. But Mickey and I told the boys to forget what had happened and just express yourselves in the way you do in domestic circuit and show the world that Pakistan are still a force to reckon with.
“The players were told to stick to the basics and express themselves in the best way they could in the do-or-die situation Pakistan were in after the Edgbaston defeat,” said Sarfraz. “This was a clear message from the coach and myself and the results are in front of everyone today.”