Seldom did an international cricket tournament witness such a turnaround, as Pakistan, coming into the 8th edition of the ICC Champions Trophy as the lowest ranked team, comprehensively trounced the mighty Indians in the final by a huge margin of 180 runs to lift the trophy at Kennington Oval, London. An all-round team performance with some magnificent batting from Fakhar Zaman, Azhar Ali and Mohammed Hafeez and equally brilliant bowling by Mohammad Amir, Hassan Ali and Shadab Khan saw Pakistan coasting to an easy victory not very often seen in an international championship final.
They were regarded as the ‘no-hopers’ after their 124-run defeat against the Indians in the group stage in their first match. But the relatively young team of Pakistan under skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, with not much experience in international cricket, came round magnificently, beating their opponents in all the subsequent games and becoming worthy champions.
Setting India a huge target of 339, Pakistan made a brilliant start, sending the top three Indian batsmen Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and skipper Virat Kohli within 9 overs with the score at 33. Left-arm fast bowler Mohammad Anir first trapped Rohit lbw in the very first over. Virat Kohli survived a catching chance at slip that was floored by Azhar Ali but in the next ball he miscued a shot and was caught at point by Shadab Khan; that was 6 for 2 in the third over. Kohli’s vulnerability outside the off stump, especially in English conditions, was so evident to all. Amir struck again and sent the highest scorer in the championship, Shikhar Dhiwan, back to the dressing room when he nicked one to wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed. Mohammad Amir had by that time taken the wind out of the sail of Indian batting. Yuvraj Singh soon followed and what was remarkable about his dismissal was the confidence that was demonstrated by 18-young old leg spinner Shadab Khan, who ‘demanded’ a review from his skipper as he was sure that the ball hit the pad first and he was out lbw. How right he was! With MS Dhoni’s return to the pavilion in the next over caught at deep square leg by Imad Wasim off Hassan Ali, half the side capitulated for 54 runs. Except for a cameo batting display by Hardik Pandya who hit 6 sixes in his innings of 76 runs off 43 balls, the Indian innings soon folded in 30.3 overs for 158, giving Pakistan a huge victory margin of 180 runs. Mohammad Amir and Hassan Ali bagged 3 wickets, each conceding only 16 and 19 runs respectively.
In the final, the captain winning the toss was expected to put in the opponents to bat first and that is exactly what Virat Kohli did. Little did he know what really was in store for his team. After young Fakhar Zaman survived a ‘caught behind’ from a Bumrah ‘no-ball’ when he was on three, he and his opening partner Azhar Ali put up a brilliant partnership of 128 runs before Azhar Ali was run out in a mix up for 59 runs. The Pakistani batsmen were scoring at their own sweet will and the top class bowlers of India like Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah looked extremely ordinary, each of them conceding 7 or more runs per over. Fakhar Zaman, playing only his 4th ODI, completed a dazzling century before departing. His innings of 114 off 106 balls was laced with 12 beautiful hits to the fence and 3 towering sixes. Babar Azam (46) and Mohammed Hafeez (57 not out) coming in at number 5 made useful contributions as Pakistan posted a mammoth total of 338 for 4, leaving it for their bowlers to contain the formidable Indian batting line-up and they did just that with impeccable precision.
Pakistan is always regarded as the most unpredictable cricket team but on their day they can pose a threat to any team. This was evident in their semi-final match against hosts England, one of the pre-tournament favourites. Despite the absence of Mohammad Amir, who was declared unfit with a back spasm, the team was seen to be flooded with confidence and the young bowling attack completely outplayed the English batsmen and their top order batsmen showed brilliance to win by 8 wickets. Hassan Ali took 13 wickets in the tournament including four 3-wicket hauls. Shadab Khan has been a great discovery, the leg-spinner will be going home with bags of experience. Both these youngsters along with Fakhar Zaman, who has displayed maturity in his batting at the top of the order, have great future in international cricket. Credit must also be given to young skipper Sarfraz Ahmed. His change of bowling and field setting in the semi-final was brilliant and he motivates his team even when things are not going their way. This Pakistani team will now have to be looked up to and taken notice of.
India, on the other hand, has quite a bit of soul-searching to do. Was it complacence that brought their downfall? How could Bumrah, Ashwin and Jadeja let the Pakistani batsmen score 205 runs off their 27 overs? How could a team boasting of a batting line-up of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni with tons of experience capitulate against the Pakistani bowlers, some of whom have only played a handful of international matches?
Pakistan completely dominated the final with both bat and ball. They were undoubtedly the better side on the day and they have lifted another global cricket event trophy after a gap of quite a few years with pride. They have been the worthy winners and hope this victory will add much needed fillip into Pakistani cricket.
The ICC Champions Trophy 2107 has definitely been a great victory for international cricket. There have definitely been upsets and teams regarded as minnows did put up some great performances with some very exciting and highly competitive matches.