ICC awards signal Pakistan’s rising stock in the game
January 27 2022 12:26 AM

This past week has been a rewarding experience for Pakistan cricket. The world had been taking note of how a young team led by Babar Azam — who, himself is not too old at 27 — had been on the charge during his first full year at the helm across formats. But the latest recognition has stamped that authority.
In crowning glory, Pakistan’s 21-year-old spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi won the coveted ICC International Cricketer of the Year award for his outstanding performance across all formats. His stunning 3 for 31 spell against India in the T20 World Cup last year was also deemed the performance of the year. He is the first Pakistani and also the youngest to make the ICC honours board.
Azam, who has been wowing the connoisseurs across the world with his classy willow in the last few years and is now staking claim to being possibly, the best in the business across formats overall, brought home two gongs: He was declared the ICC International ODI Cricketer of the Year and anointed the captain of the ICC T20I Team of the Year.
Azam was similarly picked as the captain of the T20I World Cup team by an ICC panel even though Australia won the trophy and the other finalist were New Zealand. This was down to his inspired campaign where he led from the front in scoring four half centuries and capping a spectacular unbeaten run to the semis, where they wilted only in the last half hour to allow Australia to sneak in. 
Last but not least, wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan, the swashbuckling opener, easily grabbed the ICC International T20 Cricketer of the Year award for his world record exploits. He amassed a whopping 1,326 runs in the calendar year at an average of over 73 and a strike rate of 134 plus.
But the country is equally agog at the ICC Women’s Emerging Cricketer of the Year gong picked up by Fatima Sana, a diminutive 20-year-old right-arm fast bowler. This will embellish hope for many aspiring young females to take up the sport. Happily, she is already being noticed and reportedly, sponsorships and endorsements are on the way.
But more than the awards, two factors stand out in Pakistan’s most productive recent year: courage and humility. After New Zealand walked out of their tour of Pakistan just hours ahead of a scheduled game last year citing an unsubstantiated threatening email, and subsequently, England pulled out of a two-match outing on flimsy grounds of “player fatigue”, Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja exhorted his players to vent their disappointment through performance on the field.
And so, not only did Pakistan rise to the occasion, but two stunning episodes of self-denial were at the heart of the passionate riposte. Whilst Babar Azam was lifting Pakistan to its maiden victory against India in a World Cup game, few knew that his ill mother lay on a ventilator back home. Later, an inspired Rizwan walked out of his ICU bed with a chest infection to top score in the semis — a turnaround that his Indian doctor described as a miracle!
Simon Hughes, a leading English cricket expert who has written for The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, served as a roving BBC reporter and edited The Cricketer magazine, was floored with how the Pakistan team set the stage alight and famously tweeted: “Pakistan are the greatest asset world cricket has. Their cricketers are utterly compelling”.
But he wasn’t the only one. From Nasser Hussain, the flavour inducing commentating former England captain — “They cannot play him” was his description of Shaheen Shah Afridi’s sizzling spell against India in the blockbuster pipe-opener — to Harsha Bhogle, the premier Indian voice in the game, everyone chimed in to acknowledge the green tide.
To add fillip to the rising stock of Pakistan cricket, the seventh edition of Pakistan Super League, which some international cricketers have described as the most competitive in the world, begins today. The showpiece event will be watched with extra fanfare this time with even broadcasters in Australia queueing up for rights.
In a sign of the changing times, Australia are now set to tour Pakistan in March followed by a contrite New Zealand and England both agreeing to add extra games to make up for their no-show last year.

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