ISLAMABAD, June 20: Even after the special convoy escorting Sarfraz Ahmed from the airport got within sight of his Karachi home in the early hours of the morning, it took the Pakistan captain nearly a half-hour to get from the vehicle to his house as a throng of adoring cricket fans clamored for photographs.
Fans decorated the street and waited through the night to welcome their hero, with some carrying children on their shoulders to get a glimpse of the man who led Pakistan to an unlikely win in the Champions Trophy in London.
Supporters unfurled a 70-foot (21-meter) long national flag and carried it in the street as Ahmed drove in, as police tried to clear a path.
Ahmed waved the trophy from the balcony of his house as he was showered with rose petals as the crowd chanted “Pakistan Zindabad,” meaning long live Pakistan.
“This is your trophy and we won it just because of you,” Ahmed said.
Thousands of fans stayed up late across the country to welcome home members of the Pakistan squad.
Ahmed and fast bowler Ruman Raees arrived in Karachi at 4:45 a.m. with the trophy that Pakistan had won for the first time.
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.
Pakistan stunned the cricketing world on Sunday when it beat archrival and hot favorite India by 180 runs in the final.
Ahmed’s squad overcame a terrible start in the event — beaten by 124 runs in the first group match by India — to beat South Africa, Sri Lanka and England on the way to the championship match.
“Players came under pressure in the first match, but credit goes to the team management the way they motivated the players,” Ahmed said. “It was a very big victory … it will be remembered for a long time and we are enjoying every moment of it.”
Raees said he didn’t sleep for two days because of all the excitement following Pakistan’s first win in a major cricket tournament since the 1992 World Cup.
“I dedicate the win to the whole nation and we enjoyed the victory a lot, congratulations to the whole country,” Raees said.
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.”
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 when the team landed.
Television footage showed supporters chanting “Pakistan Zindabad” when four of the players entered the public area at 2:30 a.m.
Player-of-the-tournament Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Babar Azam, and Ahmed Shehzad were presented with bouquets by Punjab provincial ministers.
Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was due to receive the cricketers, but Geo Television reported he couldn’t travel to the airport at the last minute because of security reasons.
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.
Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan and Junaid Khan arrived in Islamabad where a fleet of policemen a gave guard of honor to the three players at the airport.-AP