Pakistan is a beautiful country with people whose passion for cricket is second to none.
Be it the coming together to celebrate Pakistan’s victory in the 1992 World Cup with tears of joy or having a cry of anguish in the 1999 World Cup when they were so close yet so far, having lost to Australia in the finals.
The subcontinental land has taken immense pride in hosting nations, albeit in 2009, it came to a standstill when the Sri Lankan cricket team bus was attacked by 12 gunmen near the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore. This not only marred the hosts but even world cricket.
Cricket, as we knew it, post this traumatic episode, was nearly over in Pakistan. That’s the way it looked for no fewer than six years.
The young cricket lover couldn’t see his heroes live on the field and had to be content looking at them just on their television sets.
Not a good space to be in, is it?
Well, in 2015 international cricket returned to this valiant cricket-loving country. But it wasn’t any of the big nations that toured Pakistan, rather a little dynamite known as Zimbabwe, under their Managing Director of Cricket, Alistair Campbell.
A country with boundless talent (and checkered cricketing past) but a fidgety structure (and administrative problems), Zimbabwe took the bold step of reviving international cricket in this part of the world.
Though this wasn’t just a cricket series, rather a moment of triumph of sport over terrorism with the Chevrons and Pakistan being the heroes.
It soon became an occasion to celebrate for every Pakistani fan with their national heroes again playing in their backyard and moreover to see international cricket take small steps towards normalcy in a country scarred by misfortunes, for the cricket fraternity at large.
After having last played the game it so loves, the Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan 2020 promises great excitement and a new beginning, featuring 3 ODIs and as many T20Is.
But make no mistake.
The Zimbabwe tour of Pakistan 2020 is not only about cricket but also about triumph. This time over a different sort of evil from 2015, a virus that has hampered sport as well as economies across the world for well over 8 months.
So, as Zimbabwe lock horns with Pakistan starting with the first ODI in Rawalpindi on October 30, followed by 2 more ODIs and the 3 T20Is at the same venue thereafter, here are a few things the cricket fan would love to note:
New Leadership- On And Off The Field- For The Chevrons
Zimbabwe come into this series led by a new captain in Chamu Chibhabha, after their ex-skipper, one of the great Chevron stalwarts Hamilton Masakadza had called time on his career last year. Chamu, an all-rounder who has been part of the Zimbabwe set-up for well over a decade faces a daunting challenge to beat the Men in Green in their own backyard. The well-built Chevron will have to bring all his 96 ODIs and 30 T20s experience to the fore and would be encouraged by having seniors, the likes of Brendan Taylor, Elton Chigumbura, Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza for advice.
While Lalchand Rajput, their new head coach should have led them into this battle, his bowling compatriot Douglas Hondo will be pulling the strings in the absence of the Indian who has been asked to pull out of the tour owing to a statement from Zimbabwe Cricket that said, the Indian embassy in Harare had sought an exemption for Rajput visiting Pakistan, citing travel guidelines issued by the Government of India for its citizens.
Well, for me this makes absolutely no sense as Rajput is traveling to Pakistan in his capacity as the coach of a touring team who just coincidently happens to be an Indian. The best man for the job has to be at the forefront to lead the team, else why have him as a coach when such conditions are to be applied.
Faraz Akram And Blessing Muzarabani- Two Youngsters That’ll Hold Key
On a lighter note, it’s not an everyday thing that you see the Chevrons having an Akram instead of the Pakistanis, albeit not the great Wasim but a young Faraz. The Saudi Arabian born youngster is an opening quick and a left-hand hard-hitting bat for Zimbabwe’s domestic team Mashonaland Eagles and has taken almost 40 wickets and scored nearly 500 runs in his domestic exploits in only 2 years, which surely makes him one to watch out for in this contest.
The other Chevron who would be equally keen to make a mark is the young quick, Blessing Muzarabani, who after his international debut went Kolpak, but now is back to add to his 27 international wickets in a young career. A bowler who has the ability to stretch it beyond 140kph is surely a lethal addition to Zim’s bowling in the absence of seasoned operator Kyle Jarvis, who for reasons best known to the Zimbabwe selectors hasn’t made the cut.
Along with these youngsters, experienced campaigners like Brendan Taylor, Sean Williams, and the wily fox Sikandar Raza would be more than eager to stamp their authority on the game with decisive performances having not played cricket amid the COVID gap.
Pak, Much Like Zim Shall Look To The Youth To Excite
With seasoned limited-overs veterans Shoaib Malik, Sarfaraz Ahmed, and Mohammad Amir showed the door for the series, Pakistan has made a statement of strong intent to invest in youngsters to make the Men in Green great again on the world stage.
Rookie Abdullah Shafique, an uncapped 20-year old, top-order batsman has found a place following strong performances for Central Punjab in the recently-concluded National T20 Cup along with another 20-year-old pace sensation Muhammad Hasnain who has already bagged 10 wickets since his debut last year.
Misbah-ul- Haq, the coach of Pakistan in a statement said ‘We want to give young boys an extended run so that they can show what they are capable of at the highest level and cement their places for future assignments. We all saw some outstanding individual performances in the National T20 Cup but not everyone got a chance and must be disappointed. But they have a chance for the New Zealand tour to get into the “A” team. I want to reassure them that they will remain in consideration for the New Zealand tour and next year’s home series. All they now need to do is to carry those impressive run of forms into the upcoming domestic competitions.’
What’s more, young all-rounder Shadab Khan has been given the important mantle of vice-captaincy which again shows the importance of youth for Pakistan going forward.
Babar Azam- Can The Emperor In The Making Delight His Home Crowds
When one talks about young gifted batters in limited-overs cricket, one name that immediately springs to mind is the mild-mannered right-hander.
With an average almost touching 50 in T20s and in the mid-50s in ODI cricket, he truly is a rockstar having already notched up well over 1500 runs in T20 cricket and almost 4000 in ODI cricket in only his 5th year of international cricket.
What’s more captaincy in the limited-overs set-up has further enhanced his confidence with sharing the spoils for the T20 series against a strong England outfit in their own back yard earlier this year.
In a statement to a Pakistani news channel, Babar exclaimed ‘It’s a great honour for me to be able to captain Pakistan in ODI cricket. There’s been no cricket in Pakistan for a decade, and our players were forced to play abroad. So I count myself very lucky.
The ICC league gives every series context, with seven qualifying berths up for grabs.
So, we want to put as many points on the board as possible so when we get to the World Cup, people talk about us seriously. In 2011, we qualified for the semi-finals and in 2019, we couldn’t get through. I don’t think the rankings matter but I want us to start well and I fully trust my team to perform well and qualify.’
To my cricket-loving mind, Pakistan certainly hold the edge over Zimbabwe in the series due to strength in depth of experience and talent, not to mention the presence of veterans, the likes of which include- the dangerous Fakhar Zaman, the talented Mohammed Hafeez, seasoned but vulnerable quickie Wahab Riaz and all-rounder Imad Wasim complementing Babar and his army more than ably in their will to conquer the Southern African nation.
As true cricket lovers, while tournaments like the IPL and India tour of Australia would always be more in the limelight due to the money, glamour, and talent at stake, it’s time we start giving due credit to smaller series also, as in the spirit of the game cricket should always be the winner.
Well, let’s ready ourselves for arguably speaking, the most exciting cricketing battle that one hopes won’t go undersung.