On June 18, 2017, the country which was deprived of international cricket since 2009, had claimed the Champions Trophy out of nowhere. The bottom-ranked side had emerged as the champion to everyone’s surprise.
The victory was more significant because it has reinstated the love and passion of cricket in among youngsters. As Pakistan’s World Cup 1992 win inspired a whole generation to pick up bat and ball and head towards the field to play cricket, Rumman believes this Champions Trophy triumph has put the same impact on the youth of the country, “Kids have become passionate about cricket once again, sports can keep youngsters on the right track, otherwise they can get into wrong activities,” told the left-arm fast bowler Rumman Raees. “As World Cup 1992 win and World T20 2009 victory beefed up the passion of the game in the country, I feel Champions Trophy success has done the same.”
Pakistan were written off even before the eight-nation tournament kicked off. The captain of the side Sarfraz Ahmed had earlier stated that ‘we have nothing to lose’ and his statement was heavily criticized by cricket experts as it seemed like the skipper was hoisting the white flag already.
The Men in Green suffered a bitter defeat against the arch-rivals, India, in the opening game of the tournament. Their senior bowler, Wahab Riaz got injured and was ruled out of the campaign. The fans, who were already wary of Pakistan’s chances in the tournament, buried their expectations of seeing their heroes becoming the champions. However, if you believe you know Pakistan cricket, the question arises, do you even know cricket? Pakistan cricket has never been that simple, it has always been like a roller coaster ride and it is not for faint-hearted.
Sarfraz Ahmed and his players put unpleasant memories of India’s match behind and decided to move. “Our team management was quite positive even after losing the first game,” Rumman Raees recalled. “We were determined that we will not give up unless we are knocked out, even if we have one game and a chance to qualify, we will give our best to it. We discussed it in the team meeting that we have to stay positive, play bravely and play like lions.”
Pakistan kept the same approach and went all guns blazing in the remaining of the games. Both the bowlers and batsmen played aggressively to down South Africa and Sri Lanka on their route to the semifinal of the tournament. The dangerous batting line of South Africa was tamed by the brilliance of Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim and Junaid Khan. Later, Fakhar Zaman’s carnage at the top of the order took the game away from the Proteas and Pakistan eventually won the match on D/L method. Later, the Men in Green registered a signature win against Sri Lanka where they give their fans mini heart attacks on their way to chase a small total. Luck favoured Pakistan, especially the skipper Sarfraz Ahmed who was dropped twice in the game by the sloppy Sri Lankan fielders and ultimately he steered the team home with Mohammad Amir.
Pakistan had a big challenge ahead, where they had to face the home side and the favourites of tournament, England. Just a couple of hours ahead of the game, Pakistan’s ace pacer, Mohammad Amir got injured and he was to be replaced by the debutante Rumman Raees, who was not initially in the squad and joined it only after Wahab Riaz’s injury. “Sometimes, you say something and it just happens,” told the left-arm fast bowler. “I was about to break my fast, sitting with my family, I just said to my mother that I am going to play Champions Trophy [as a replacement of Wahab Riaz], just after one and a half hour, I got a call from selectors who inquired about my fitness and told me to get ready for the Champions Trophy.
“I cannot explain the level of excitement I had, I was not under pressure as I had played T20Is for Pakistan earlier. However, I was thinking that it is a huge responsibility, the second biggest ICC event and there are all the top teams competing in the tournament, I realized it will be a big test for me, but I was confident and positive.”
The 26-year old did not let selectors down and bowled to his potential. He kept things simple, stuck to his strengths, dried up runs for attacking English openers and used his variation to get rid of Alex Hales and give Pakistan their first breakthrough of the game. Rumman, along with Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan bowled outstandingly in the contest and pushed England out of the game. Batsman like Ben Stokes played 64 deliveries and was unable to hit a single boundary, which shows how well Pakistani bowlers bowled in the big game. England were confined to a small total of 211, which was chased easily by Pakistan at an expense of just two wickets, courtesy of Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali’s classy innings.
On the other hand, India had qualified for the final of the tournament beating Bangladesh hands down. India were very confident under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. Former Indian cricketers were claiming there is no match between the two finalists. Indian media sounded as if they had already won the final, they had written off Pakistan completely. But, it was naive of them as cricket pundits say ‘write off Pakistan on your own peril.’
Virat Kohli won the toss and invited Pakistan to bat first. It was a shaky start from Pakistan, Jasprit Bumrah got an early breakthrough in shape of Fakhar Zaman, who was the man in form for Pakistan, but the replay showed it was a no-ball. It reinstated the confidence in Pakistan camp that they are likely to win this contest. “When Fakhar Zaman got out, we got a bit worried, but when it turned out to be a no-ball, we got relaxed that God is with us today, we are not going lose this match anyway,” stated Rumman Raees.
Fakhar Zaman made the most out of that opportunity and banged English Indian bowlers to struck a blistering ton. Azhar Ali also played a handy inning, while Mohammad Hafeez’ brisk 57 runs off 37 deliveries was crucial in the context of the game. “It was a very crucial inning, we were targeting around 275 to 300, but Hafeez bhai‘s onslaught took Pakistan to 338, which made a huge difference. It is one of the best innings of his career.”
When Pakistan came out to bowl, it was all Mohammad Amir. He was unable to deliver in the earlier games as he was supposed to, but the way he bowled in the all-important final, it once again proved why he is considered as one of the best fast bowlers of his era. He took little time to destroy India’s top order, despite a dropped catch by Azhar Ali of Virat Kohli. “I was sitting in the dugout with water bottles in my hand, when Amir struck, I threw the bottle and just wanted to run onto the field to celebrate the wicket. But, when Kohli was dropped, we were disappointed because you cannot afford to give any chance to a player of his calibre, however, when Shadab [Khan] caught him on the next delivery and we ecstatic,” recalled Rumman.
Pakistan had the upper-hand throughout the competition, but till former Indian skipper, MS Dhoni was at the crease, the Men in Green could not relax. Hasan Ali, who emerged as the highest wicket-taker of the tournament, bowled a bouncer to him which he edged it straight Imad Wasim at square-leg. For Rumman, Dhoni’s dismissal was the end of the game for the then defending champions, “When Hardik Pandya was hitting sixes, India had already lost that game by then,” he told. “For me, the wicket of Dhoni was the deciding moment as he has taken India to many such victories single-handedly,” he added.
India were 9 down for 156 runs, the crowd was buzzing, and it was extremely loud there. Pakistani supporters were chanting, singing national songs and the players in the dugout were ready to invade the field to celebrate the grand victory. “I got a flag from the crowd, I wore it and waited for the last wicket to fall just outside the boundary, as Hasan Ali bounced out Bumrah, I just ran onto the field to celebrate,” remembers Rumman Raees. “We danced in the dressing room, we celebrated like anything, but when we came back to Pakistan, we then actually realized what we have achieved for our nation.”