Miracle of the oval – a Pakistan cricket success story written in Southern Africa

Robson Sharuko

HARARE – IT has been dubbed the Miracle of the Oval – underdogs Pakistan making a mockery of their status as the lowest-ranked team coming into the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy and destroying favourites India in the final to win the tournament – to spark delirium in the cricket-mad Asian nation.

Wining the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy comes just two weeks after Pakistan stumbled to England. But the underdogs turned their fortunes around when they found their magical touch, at a time when no one gave them a chance, to win the ICC Champions Trophy.

How did Pakistan bounce back from a team that were blown away for just 164 all out, chasing India’s 319/3 in their first group game, to find the character and wizardry to bamboozle every other team they faced after that, in must-win matches that represented either a lifeline or doom, and cap it all in such spectacular fashion by being crowned champions?

How did this team, in those subsequent matches after their first-game meltdown, restrict South Africa to just 219/8 before winning by 19 runs through the Duckworth Lewis method, having lost just three wickets in that chase, restrict Sri Lanka to just 236 in a winner-take-all game and then chase down the total in 44.5 overs?

How did this team, which no expert gave a chance, somehow find itself in the semi-finals of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy and then even go on to embarrass hosts England, who had been flying in their group matches, blowing away the English for just 211 and then losing only two wickets as they chased that total in just 37.1 overs?

And, how did this team – facing the same Indian side that had destroyed them in the first group game of this tournament – turn it around in the final by crushing that powerful Indian batting line-up, which included Virat Kohli, for only 158 in 30.3 overs?

On a surface that the same Pakistan team had scored 338 for the loss on only four wickets when they batted earlier with Fakah Zaman scoring 114 on his own, which means the entire Indian side, together, scored just 44 runs more than him that day?

According to Pakistan’s triumphant skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, who was mobbed as a pop star in his return home, look no further than the coaching team of head coach Mickey Arthur and his backroom staff, for that stunning revival that continues to rock world cricket even as the dust from the battlefields of Lord’s, Edgbaston and the Oval now begin to settle.

“Credit goes to my team management, they worked really hard after the first defeat,” the captain told the media as he soaked in the glory of his team’s stunning triumph.

“They motivated us, and they passed it on to my boys. They’re learning very well. When we arrived here, we were No.8 (in the ODI rankings) and now we are the champions.

“Hopefully this win will boost up Pakistan cricket and hopefully all playing nations are coming to Pakistan.”

Well, as Southern Africa continues to digest the pain of yet another choke by the Proteas on the big stage, why is the region not celebrating a remarkable Pakistan success story whose other major writers are men from this part of the world?

After all, the head coach Arthur was born in Johannesburg and started his cricket career in South Africa where he used to play as a right-handed batsman before being ushered into the hot seat of coaching his country, the Proteas, in May 2005 as the successor to Ray Jennings.

He had only celebrated his 37th birthday and with his first battles being against a dominant Australia team, by far the best in the world back then, Arthur’s Proteas were beaten home and away and although he made history as the first South African coach to guide the team to a Test win in Australia in 2008, he quit his post in January two years late.

He was handed the job to coach Australia but the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013, where the team crashed out at the group stages, was unbearable for the authorities Down Under and he was replaced by Darren Lehmann with an Ashes showdown against the old enemy looming.

And, as fate would have it, Arthur – whose last job as a national team coach had been ended by failure in the ICC Champions Trophy in England in 2013 – would use the same tournament, four years later, to write the greatest success story of his coaching career as Pakistan emerged victorious two weeks ago.

“Yeah certainly (but) it’s not about me and my career, it’s about 15 unbelievable players in that dressing room who have been absolutely fantastic for the last year,” Arthur told the authoritative website www.cricket.com.au.

“So that’s what it should be about. But it is, it really is. I’ve had five semi-finals with South Africa and never got to a final. I got to one final with Pakistan and eventually got a medal. So that’s fantastic.

“But the credit goes to the players. They’ve been brilliant, and my fellow coaching staff and management team have been fantastic, as well.”

Arthur is just one of a number of Southern African technical experts who planted the seeds for Pakistan’s sensational success story in England.

The Pakistan Cricket Board’s decision to hire South African conditioning coach Grant Luden and Zimbabwe’s batting coach Grant Flower, three years ago, laid the base for the team to finally roar in England and, after the jitters of the first match against India, fire on all cylinders to transform themselves into champions of the world.

“It’s been an experience but now it’s time to go home,’’ Luden tweeted after success had been secured. “Get the braai wood ready,’’ he said, in typical Southern African fashion where braais are a part of the culture of life.

“That’s correct. ICC champions trophy winner. Pakistan you beauty. Now that the dust has settled. Time to get back.”

How things looked different just a few weeks ago after that humiliation in the first game against India?

The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan was forced to discuss the team’s technical composition with a media that had seemingly been calling for the axing of the coaching staff.

“It is a wrong impression that we have formed another committee to probe Pakistan’s defeat to India,’’ he said.

“That is not the case. Before the Champions Trophy I had already formed this committee to look into the performance of the team’s support staff.

“Win and loss are part of the sport and no panic button is being pressed because of the defeat to India. But this committee has been asked to talk to the players and support staff and gather feedback on their performances. We have been observing things and have got information from our managers.

“Everyone we have spoken to says the batting coach (Flower) is doing well. But obviously he has been there for nearly four years and we want to see more results.’’

June 2017
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