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Rookies and rejects: The Real MVPs of Pakistan’s Champions Trophy triumph

In the normal world, it’s the star players who contribute the lion’s share when a team wins something big, not a band of rookies and rejects who — until a short while ago — weren’t even guaranteed a place in the side.

But that’s for the normal world, and nothing about this Pakistan cricket team is normal. Expect anything of this bunch but never expect them to be normal.

Against India, in the final, and the trio of matches before that, Pakistan went from being shockingly below-par to incredibly overpowering, crushing one top opponent after another. For once, the batsmen didn’t wilt under pressure, the fielders didn’t drop lollypop catches and bowlers didn’t stray from their plan.

But none of it, or very few of it, was the doing of the team’s established star players.

Hasan Ali: the hero of the ordinary

Wahab Riaz was broken long before he got injured. Shoaib Malik made 54 runs in five matches and bowled just two overs in the entire tournament. Mohammad Hafeez had a single fifty to go with his solitary wicket. Captain Sarfraz also had just a single fifty. Barring his three-wicket salvo in the final, Mohammad Amir had two wickets in three matches before that. Ahmed Shahzad played once, flopped once.

With all these big names either tanking completely or shining only sporadically, the onus to perform was on newcomers and fringe players.

Hasan Ali, for instance, though a regular in the squad, is a 23-year-old who came into the tournament with just 16 career ODIs under his belt. He was supposed to be a support bowler in the middle overs after Riaz and Amir were done wrecking the top order. The Robin overshadowed both Batman and Superman, finishing as the tournament’s leading wicket taker.

Sarfraz gets hero’s welcome as team returns home

Azhar Ali, the most obedient of Misbahul Haq’s disciples, was sacked from captaincy and dropped from the squad for the tour of the West Indies. Had it not been for Kamran Akmal’s wastefulness in the Caribbean, Azhar would’ve been further perfecting his picture-perfect forward defensive in Lahore. Instead, he scored three fifties in five games, including one each in the semi-final and final. The rejects did what the regulars couldn’t.

Talking about rejects, how about Junaid Khan, who not so long ago was so disheartened at being kept out of the team — usually by Wahab — he threatened to play for England. What selectors couldn’t do for him, Wahab’s ankle did. Brought in against Sri Lanka as the replacement, Junaid didn’t look back and picked wickets in every game, eventually finishing with eight for the tournament.

Then comes the rookie of all rookies: Fakhar Zaman. All that was expected of the debutant was to not need 22 balls for a dozen laboured runs a la Shahzad, whom he replaced against Sri Lanka. Zaman has practically ended Shahzad’s international career by finishing the tournament as Pakistan’s highest run-scorer with 252 to his name.

All hail the champs

Fellow debutant Rumman Raees was so green, his ESPNcricinfo profile didn’t even have photo in a green kit. Yet, when called upon in the crucial game against England, the newbie played like a seasoned campaigner, picking two wickets, including the one of Alex Hales.

So too did the third debutant of the tournament. Fahim Ashraf impressed with both bat and ball in his only outing against Sri Lanka.

Eighteen-year-old Shadab Khan too did more than what could have been expected of him; first being very economical against South Africa, then picking the key wicket of Joe Root against England before making  a fool out of India’s usually devastating Yuvraj Singh in the final.

Not one of this septet, by any stretch of the imagination, were considered superstars, match-winners or even regulars. They were typified either as fringe players or future talent. On paper, they were nobodies. The torn-up pieces of that paper can be found all over the pitch of The Oval.

The rookies and rejects of Pakistan cricket team were the real winners on Sunday. They were well and truly, the real MVPs.

The post Rookies and rejects: The Real MVPs of Pakistan’s Champions Trophy triumph appeared first on The Express Tribune.

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