Unless it is the World Twenty20 final, winning a match in the shortest format is seldom the cause for massive celebration. Today, it was.
For Mohammed Hafeez, Pakistan’s thumping of South Africa was as much an individual triumph as it was a team one. It showed that he has not lost his touch even after the Test series brought that up for debate. It showed that the team is not incapable of competing with and beating an opposition that continues to be talked up as better than them. And it showed those who have called for heads to roll, their words came too early.
Hafeez animatedly defended everyone in the Pakistan setup, specifically the coach Dav Whatmore, with even more gusto than he celebrated their victory. He thought it proved the criticism they have copped from home was unreasonable and this would put an end to some of that.
“It was unfair. If the results of one format do not come in your favour, it does not mean the boys are not working hard or the coach is not good enough. Those are all premature statements from people sitting I don’t know where,” he said.
“And it does not mean that if we win the coach is working harder. He was working the same way with us throughout. We are all behind him and we’ve all been working hard.”
Although it was not specifically mentioned, Hafeez’s comments were an obvious rebuttal to former captain Moin Khan’s call for Whatmore to be sacked. Moin called Whatmore “overrated” and said he was “fighting for survival.” Hafeez scoffed at all of that.
Instead, he said his team had simply shown what he always knew they were capable of. He also asked for people to remain patient with them because of the difficulties of their circumstances, which includes not playing at home “for the last four years but still doing good things for Pakistan cricket.”
A trophy from South Africa is one of those achievements. Even though it came from a format that is brushed aside as a small boys’ game and a contest in which one match was washed out, it means something. “We really wanted to do something good in this format because of the ODIs coming up. We knew the importance of this game,” Hafeez said. “Tests require a different discipline but here everyone just played without fear.”
Hafeez led by example in that regard. His 86 was a fluent innings, punctuated with classy strokes and calculated risk-taking. After a lean Test series, it will go a long way to boost his confidence. “I knew that I was playing very well in the nets, it’s just that I was getting good balls in the Test series and that was disappointing,” he said. “But I stayed positive, the coaches kept me positive and worked hard with me.”
The move to No. 3 also seems to have worked and Hafeez will likely stay there. With the youngsters Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shehzad upfront, he was required to drop down to provide experience and although it is not his first choice, he can see the benefit in doing it. “I always prefer to come as an opener but this is the requirement of the team. We are looking to the future and Ahmed Shehzad has been doing well domestically and we wanted to give him a chance. I will do whatever I have to for the team.”
For the first time on this tour, the team Hafeez so passionately talks about have a reason to smile. It is largely because of him and Umar Gul, who Hafeez said was “outstanding,” and is “always good in this format.”
They also have a reason to be hopeful ahead of their five-match ODI series in South Africa and Hafeez hopes they continue in this vein. “We’ve got a great feeling in the dressing room now. It’s a feeling that has been missing for 42 days and it’s great to have it now.”