The year 2017 was historic for Pakistan, both on and off the pitch, as Pakistan won the second most illustrious ODI tournament in the summer, either side of which were massive steps for the formal resumption of not just international but world class cricket in Pakistan.
A look back at the year also shows how the on and off-field achievements were intertwined, and how the two centered around one particular milestone that catapulted Pakistan back on the world map only in its second season: Pakistan Super League.
Those following the PSL before it was finally inaugurated would know that it has been in the works virtually since the Indian Premier League was launched a decade ago. That the 2009 Sri Lankan cricket team attack happened soon after T20 franchise cricket took off meant that Pakistan had to wait for its own version.
And yet it took longer than it should have. This is where the current Pakistan Cricket Board administration deserves all the credit.
The PSL gave Pakistan cricket the likes of Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman, all of whom were instrumental in the Champions Trophy win and the nine match ODI winning streak that Pakistan are taking to New Zealand at the beginning of the new year.
The Champions Trophy win is Pakistan’s biggest triumph in ODI cricket since the 1992 World Cup. That it similarly came as the team were cornered is absolutely typical of Pakistan.
Heading into the tournament as the lowest (8th) ranked side, Pakistan were thumped in the opener by India. After overcoming a South Africa at their choking selves, Pakistan edged home in the group match against Sri Lanka to surprise everyone by making it to the semifinals.
They were supposed to come unstuck facing the hosts and favourites England. But that’s when Pakistan were their absolute best, stifling the strong English batting lineup and then romping home with the bat.
The final win against India, as significant for being a much awaited win in an ICC event against the archrivals as it was for giving the team their maiden Champions Trophy, has forever been etched among Pakistan cricket’s greatest triumphs.
Either side of the Champions Trophy were wins for Pakistan against West Indies (away) and Sri Lanka (in the UAE) in both ODI and T20 series.
The last match of the T20 series against Sri Lanka in October was played in Lahore, marking the return of the same team that was targeted in the 2009 attack to that very city, in turn sending a resounding invitation letter to the rest of the world.
Before Sri Lanka’s tour, a truly world class World XI came to Pakistan for a three-match T20 series called dubbed the Independence Cup.
The foundation of these two tours was laid by the PSL final being held in Lahore in March, which was no small feat considering that it was preceded by two attacks within a fortnight of the event and the well publicised reluctance of foreign stars from touring the country.
But the PSL final happened in Lahore as per schedule, with the tournament giving the team budding superstars, and also proving to the world that resumption of international cricket in Pakistan has truly begun.
While Pakistan’s successes in the limited-overs formats were numerous, under the capable leadership of Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan had a mixed year in Tests, as was epitomised by the shocking 2-0 whitewash against a struggling Sri Lanka in the UAE – where Pakistan had never lost a full series.
These struggles were understandable given Pakistan had bid adieu to two of its legends Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in May, where the former became the first Pakistani captain to lead the team to a series win in the West Indies and the latter the first Pakistani to complete 10,000 runs in Tests.
The Test team has entered a transition phase and we would need to be patient with the younger lot. But there’s no question that Pakistan are heading upwards in the limited overs formats, wining the Champions Trophy in ODIs and finishing the year as the top ranked T20 side in the world.