June 21(TNS): Ten Pakistan cricketers returned home to a heroic welcome in four different cities as hundreds of fans thronged the airports, and gathered outside their residences, to celebrate the Champions Trophy triumph.
Pakistan dismantled arch-rivals India by 180 runs – the largest margin of victory in an ICC final. While five of the squad – Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Azhar Ali – stayed back in England, the Player of the Series Hasan Ali stepped out of the Lahore airport and into a red-carpet ceremony arranged by the Punjab government. The 23-year old fast bowler was accompanied by Babar Azam, No. 5 in the ICC ODI rankings for batsmen, allrounder Faheem Ashraf and opener Ahmed Shehzad.
Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s title-winning captain, was received by the mayor of Karachi and the Sindh sports minister, who honoured him with a traditional Sindhi cap and an ajrak [shawl]. An equally poignant reception was waiting for him at his house as well. A horde of people had lined the streets to catch a glimpse of him and when Sarfraz stepped onto the balcony, a huge Pakistan flag hung in front of his home. holding the trophy aloft and roaring “Pakistan”, they responded with “Zindabad”
Left-arm seamer Rumman Raees, who was one of three debutants in the tournament, touched down in Karachi as well. Shadab Khan, the 18-year old legspinner, and Imad Wasim, the left-arm-spinning allrounder, landed in Islamabad before dispersing to their homes in Rawalpindi. Batsman Haris Sohail, who did not get a game in the Champions Trophy, returned to Sialkot.
Fakhar Zaman, who smashed his maiden ODI hundred to be named Player of the Final, was met by his family in Peshawar. He will travel with them to his hometown of Katlang in Mardan. Having hit 50, 57 and 114 in back-to-back knockout matches, he dedicated his success to the Pakistan Navy, who had trained him to become a sailor before he switched careers.
“This one is bigger than anything else for the nation,” he said at his residence. “I am feeling really proud of the way we played. We went as the No. 8 team in the world but at the end we won the trophy and I think for Eid this is biggest gift for Pakistan. I want to thank the media and all the supporters who came here to support me.”
Zaman was caught behind in the fourth over for only three runs, but it was off a no-ball. When asked about the incident, he said: “Actually I had a very good record in domestic cricket, especially in the bigger games so I wanted to have a hundred in the final. I felt really bad when I got out but then the umpire held me back and told me they were checking for a no-ball. I started praying for it to be a no-ball and it was. So then I re-gathered myself and never looked back. At the end, my hundred worked and we won the game.”
Sarfraz Ahmed greets crowds outside his house in Karachi AFP
Lahore was an absolute buzz of activity even in the wee hours of the night. So many fans turned up to greet their cricketers, chanting “Pakistan Zindabad”, that the police had to cordon off the arrival lounge at the airport.
Hasan was in great demand for bowling Pakistan to their sensational victory. His flight landed 40 minutes late but the moment he appeared, the screams for selfies became deafening. Along with him came Babar, Ashraf and Shehzad, who were showered with rose petals, presented with a special guard of honour by the Lahore police band, and escorted to their vehicles.
The PCB had not organised an official ceremony to welcome the players, but it hardly seemed to matter. Hasan’s brother, for example, had arranged a rally from the city of Gujranwala to their village Ladhewala Waraich, about 30 minutes away.
“I am really happy to see how happy people are,” Hasan said. “It’s a great moment for me, for my family and for the entire country. I am honoured and I feel privileged with all the love I have been given by the people.”
Babar was welcomed by his neighbours and fans outside his home, his car sprinkled with petals all around. “I always try to give my 100% and want to improve with every passing game,” he told reporters who were gathered as well. “I am happy that I have contributed in the victories and excited to be the Part of his of this historic moment.”