Islamabad (AP) — Hundreds of fans stayed up late to welcome home members of new Champions Trophy winner Pakistan in the cities of Lahore and Karachi on Tuesday.
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, along with a picture of the team carrying the trophy.
Television footage showed supporters chanting “Pakistan Zindabad,” which means long live Pakistan, 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.
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.
Pakistan stunned the cricketing world on Sunday when they crushed archrivals and hot favorites 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.
In the southern port city of Karachi, fans decorated the entire street and house of captain Sarfraz Ahmed, who arrived with fast bowler Ruman Raees at 4:45 am 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.
“Thanks God … it’s all because of prayers of whole nation,” Ahmed said as he walked out of the lounge surrounded by dozens of his fans and security officials.
Raees said he didn’t sleep for the last two days because of all the excitement.
“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.”
Back at Ahmed’s home, hundreds of fans waited through the night to welcome their hero, with some carrying children on their shoulders to get a glimpse of Pakistan’s winning captain.
Fans had also brought a special 70-foot (21-meter) long national flag and carried it in the street as Ahmed drove home in a special convoy provided by the provincial government.