Hundreds of fans stayed up late to welcome home members of the national cricket team returning after their historic win against arch-rivals India at London’s Oval Ground.
Crowds had gathered at airports in Karachi and Lahore early Tuesday morning, eagerly awaiting the return of the champions.
Fans decorated the entire street and house of captain Sarfaraz Ahmed who arrived with fast bowler Ruman Raees at 4:45 am with the trophy that Pakistan had won for the first time.
Some even climbed on rooftops and balconies to watch the captain return home. They had waited through the night to welcome their hero, with some carrying children on their shoulders to get a glimpse of the winning captain.
Fans had also brought a special 70-foot long national flag and carried it in the street as Sarfaraz drove home in a special convoy provided by the provincial government.
Both cricketers were presented with traditional Sindhi shawls and caps at the lounge as fans, and airport officials didn’t miss an opportunity to take selfies with their heroes.
Sarfaraz held up the trophy to loud cheers and chants of “Long live Sarfaraz!” as a police band played patriotic songs nearby.
“(We won) thanks to Allah and the prayers of the whole nation,” Sarfaraz said in brief comments as he jostled his way through the crowd of well-wishers.
It took Sarfaraz nearly half an hour to enter his house once his car drove into the street as fans clamoured for photos and a glimpse of their national team captain and police tried to clear the way.
Sarfaraz waved the trophy from the balcony of his house as he was showered with rose petals, much to the delight of his fans who were chanting “Pakistan Zindabad.”
“This is your trophy and we won it just because of you,” he said.
Raees said he didn’t sleep for two days because of all the excitement following the win.
“I dedicate the win to the whole nation and we enjoyed the victory a lot, congratulations to the whole country,” Raees said.
Mayor of Karachi Waseem Akhtar, Governor of Sindh Muhammad Zubair and Sindh Sports Minister Bux Mahar had also turned up to greet the captain at the aiport before he was whisked away under escort by police commandos
Provincial governor Mohammad Zubair said he was proud of “son of Sindh” Ahmed and hoped the victory will ignite more energy into youngsters playing the sport.
“He is the son of Sindh province and we are here to accord him warm welcome,” Zubair said.
“We have not hosted any international team for the last 8 or 9 years, Pakistani players are barred from playing in the IPL (Indian Premier League), but I’m sure with this victory our players will get more opportunities.”
‘We have created a legacy’
Speaking to reporters after arriving at his house, Sarfaraz said that the team’s victory in the Champions Trophy final will be remembered for years to come.
“We have created a legacy. I believe this victory will not be forgotten, it will always be remembered,” Sarfaraz said.
He added that the team would start preparing for the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) World Cup 2019 in due time but right now “we will enjoy this victory”.
“Our seniors have performed excellently in important matches,” the captain said in response to questions about the performance of the national team’s young talent.
“It is a good sign for Pakistan that the young players performed well,” Sarfaraz said, adding that 9 of the players were participating in the Champions Trophy for the first time.
“Winning the trophy was difficult,” Sarfaraz said, adding, “It was a team effort”.
The captain told media the players had initially come under a lot of pressure and gave complete credit to the team management for motivating them.
“This was a big victory for me, for the team and for the country.”
‘Champions of champions’
Messages such as “Champion of champions. Team Pakistan! Welcome back after such a tremendous victory” were emblazoned on banners erected at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, along with a picture of the team carrying the trophy.
Television footage showed supporters chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” when four of the players entered the public area at 2:30 am.
Player-of-the-tournament Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Babar Azam, and Ahmed Shehzad were presented with bouquets by Punjab provincial ministers.
Pakistan stunned the cricketing world on Sunday when it crushed archrival and hot favourite India by 180 runs in the final.
Ali took three wickets in the final and finished as the tournament’s leading bowler with 13 wickets in five matches.
Fans surrounded Ali’s car and showered it with rose petals, while the fast bowler smiled and waved from inside the vehicle.
A similar reception was accorded to man-of-the-match in the final, Fakhar Zaman, who smashed 114 off 106 balls, when he landed in Peshawar.
Zaman was showered with petals and fans gathered outside Peshawar airport changed “Pakistan Zinbabad”.
Speaking to reporters from his home in Mardan, Zaman said it was his dream to score a century in the final against India, adding the team had decided in a meeting before the final that they would play aggressively.
Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan and Junaid Khan arrived in Islamabad where a fleet of policemen a gave guard of honour to the three players at the airport.
Former interior minister and PPP stalwart Rehman Malik, present at the airport to welcome the players home, congratulated the national team and the country.