Pakistan's success in the ICC World Twenty20, losing the final by a whisker, shouldn't come as much of a surprise to the followers of the game here. This is where the format of the game first emerged after all, and rare is the Pakistan player who hasn't been playing such matches for years.
In the 1970s, there used to be a tournament held at the Eidgah ground in Nazimabad (north Karachi) called the Super Cup. The matches were 20 overs-a-side and played on a cement pitch between 16 to 24 of the best club sides in Karachi, including Shadaab, Malir Gymkhana, Pak Crescent and the Bahawalpur Club.
The tournament was held in Ramadan and over time, till the late eighties when it fizzled out, it attracted the country's top stars: Sikander Bakht, Mansoor Akhtar, Mohsin Khan, Saeed Anwar, Moin Khan and myself. Nadeem Moosa, a first-class left-arm spinner, (better-known as the best 'finger' bowler ever) was a regular, as was a batsman called Humayun Soomar, who was Karachi's Viv Richards. Crowds of between 5000 and 10,000 used to turn up. I remember reading about it in the papers and dreaming of playing in a Super Cup final.
This tournament and others like it have been instrumental in scouting players for Pakistan. I was signed up by United Bank Limited (UBL) on the basis of a century I scored in the final of a tournament organised by Karachi Gymkhana. Once, appearing as a guest player for Pak Gymkhana and batting with Basit Ali, we needed around 265 from 25 overs and were four down for 50-odd. I made a century off 50 balls and won the match in front of UBL scouts.
Saeed Anwar is a product of the Super Cup. He started as a bowler but his club captain Waheed Mirza - holder of the fifth-highest first-class partnership for any wicket with Mansoor Akhtar - asked him to open in one match. He made a quick 40 in three or four overs and was signed up by UBL.
Tariq Alam, father of Fawad who was player of the tournament in Pakistan's last Twenty20 tournament, was the best batsman in this format. He was especially good against the spinners and often batted in situations where the required run-rate was 10 to 12 an over. Younis Khan, Anwar and I developed our basic techniques from him.
Even now, current players like Younis, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq and Naved Latif play in such tournaments if they are free from other commitments. They are paid well for their appearances and where prize money for tournaments used to be Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 (US$132 to US$165), it is a much more lucrative proposition now, easily running into hundreds of thousands of rupees.
This is the main reason why Pakistan have done so well and, importantly, why they have looked so comfortable in the format. That flair and unpredictability has been missing from Pakistan. Instead, they have been efficient and clinical, because they know exactly what they are doing.
Their middle-order batsmen, in particular, have been very smart about it. They haven't slogged from ball one as others have, instead picking off runs and making sure loose balls are punished. They know they have more time than it appears. They have played orthodox strokes but Misbah in particular has been flexible enough to play more unconventional shots, like the paddle, or the reverse sweep, or the inside-out over extra cover - all shots which have been in use for long in local tournaments.
Not many have noticed it, but Pakistan have also used a tactic commonly seen in such tournaments. The batsmen have picked one end from which they will take more chances. Before the game they will choose the shorter on-side boundary, assess wind conditions, and then decide to hit out mostly from that end and use the other to collect singles and doubles.
Even the bowling has shown that intelligence. In the first six or seven overs they have kept it as tight as they can, knowing that they may go for runs anyway and not panicking if they have. But Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir have mixed up their lengths and pace beautifully. Gul has been superb, doing exactly what you will see in any tournament here: bowl with pace, use the yorker liberally and mix it with the occasional bouncer or back of length ball.
Afridi has been really clever, doing what spinners should do in this format: he has taken the pace off the ball and given it more flight. Most international cricketers thought he would bowl quickish legbreaks, but he has instead slowed it down because he knows that slower balls require more power from the batsman than a faster one.
Rashid Latif is a former wicketkeeper and captain of Pakistan