Colombo: For a country denied international cricket at home for a long time and their cricketers unwelcome in the biggest Twenty20 league, it is fascinating to watch the way Pakistan have dominated in Twenty20 cricket.
Despite limited opportunities, the green brigade is the most successful team in the format. At all the World T20 editions, they have been the team to beat. They were runners-up in 2007, lifted the trophy in 2009 and reached the semifinals in the third one.
Here too, except for the loss to India in the Super Eights, they have won all their games.
The most impressive has been how they turn up for the pressure games. Against India, they looked tense but when the heat was on in the final league game against Australia, they were a transformed side. The 32-run defeat was Australia's first of the tournament.
So, what is the secret of Pakistan’s success despite the odds? Experts attribute it to the popularity of T20 back home.
The lack of international opportunities is made up by the passion for the format which has led to dozens of tournaments being played all over Pakistan.
“Twenty overs cricket is being played in Pakistan for more than 30 years now. I don't think anybody plays as much T20 tournaments as us,” says former Pakistan skipper, Moin Khan. “We've 50 to 60 tournaments in Karachi, most of them are played during the month of Ramadan,” says Moin, who organises one of the biggest T20 events at his academy in Karachi.
“The main reason for Pakistan's success is that the players are very familiar with the format. The competition is so strong they are under pressure to keep inventing new variations and the batsmen always try to hit big shots.”
While there is no international exposure at home for the Pakistan players, few may be aware that twenty overs cricket probably originated in Pakistan.
The Nazimabad Super Cup was the first T20 competition played at Eidgah Ground in central Karachi. The Super Cup, though played with different rules, was held from mid 1970s and went on till the 1990s. Most of the top Pakistan players of that era played in the tournament. In between, there was ten10 cricket where all players in the eleven barring the 'keeper had to bowl an over each.
The stadiums are packed for the Pakistan Cricket Board's two major regional tournaments. “We start the domestic season with the regional T20 tournament, and then we finish the season with a T20 tournament for the top eight teams,” says Nadeem Sarwar, PCB's corporate communications head.
“Massive crowds turn up and for a game at the Gaddafi Stadium (Lahore) a couple of years ago, our PCB chairman was left stranded as the road leading to the stadium was packed. We had to get him to the stadium in an ambulance. And, it was not even the final,” says Sarwar.