LONDON: A player that the team nearly lost to their defence forces (Navy) — Fakhar Zaman. A bowler who let their heads hang in shame by fixing to bowl no-balls at the very same country seven summers ago — Mohammad Amir. A captain who appeared clueless about on-field strategies only three weeks back in Edgbaston. A team that nobody believed would come back to London, except to board a flight back home early. In Mickey Arthur, there was a coach whose future was hanging by the thread.
Three weeks might not be enough for most teams to put everything back in place and triumph against all odds. But for Pakistan, everything is possible. That day against India when they got a hiding seems a long time ago, as following surprise wins over South Africa and most notably against hosts England, they completed a memorable comeback on Sunday at the Oval, overcoming Virat Kohli & Co by a massive 180 runs to lift their maiden Champions Trophy crown.
Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed didn’t even face the media after the first defeat against India. Perhaps out of shame. On Sunday, he arrived with the trophy, the white blazer draped over his green shirt, and holding a medal he hopes will mean a lot more to people back home.
It is perhaps when backs to the wall that Pakistan play at their best, and as Sarfraz said, they took the field knowing they had nothing to lose. Being the eighth-ranked side, they had already exceeded expectations. India were under pressure, they had been saying.
After Fakhar’s first ODI century (114), and with contributions from Azhar Ali (59) and Mohammad Hafeez (57 n.o), they handed the Indian bowlers a hiding at first.
Then, Pakistan’s much revered bowling, which keeps throwing up special talents, took centrestage. How can a Pakistan victory be complete without their bowlers?
Amir breathed fire at the top, and by the time he removed Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan in his opening spell of six overs, the match was done. Despite Hardik Pandya’s cameo, India had a forgettable outing as they lost by 180 runs.
Two deliveries. Just two deliveries summed up everything in total about Pakistan cricket. Mohammad Aamir was already in the middle of a dream spell after dismissing Rohit Sharma in his first over, when the third ball of his second over took the edge of Virat Kohli’s bat and went to Azhar Ali at first slip. It was a peach, with wicket written all over it, but Ali dropped the easiest of chances. Aamir yelled in pain, even uttered a curse word or two.
In the stands Pakistani fans let abuses fly and Indians were rejoicing. It was Kohli, of all batsmen, who all thought was standing between Pakistan and their maiden Champions Trophy title. It didn’t seem to matter even if India needed 333 more to defend their title.
The next ball appeared to be a harmless one, and seemed to be going with the angle, but Kohli tried to work it on the leg and got a leading edge instead, which flew to the hands of Shadab Khan at point. Aamir was running towards fine-leg, arms wide open, punching air and sliding along the turf like a football striker, before the rest in green were all over him. This chase was supposed to go the distance, but at 7/2 in 3.4 overs, it was over. Firm favourites to win the final, India succumbed to a mammoth 180-run defeat.
Pakistan are known for scripting amazing turnarounds.
But even by their own standards, their rise in this edition of the Champions Trophy was phenomenal. Maybe the 1992 World Cup triumph will forever remain their pivotal moment, but this was no less extraordinary. On June 4, when they slumped to a huge defeat against their arch-rivals at Edgbaston, nobody gave them a chance to go all the way. Their coach Mickey Arthur was castigated that evening. He even called it ‘extremely insulting’ when a reporter told him that his tenure only seems to have taken Pakistan cricket backwards. Arthur responded saying, “We have moved from ninth to eighth in the rankings. We have surely improved.”
Rising from ashes
Pakistan had shown in the past they can rise from the ashes, and triumph against all odds. But after each small step they took, a huge tumble followed. It is a recurring theme that plays in their background, where match-fixing, spot-fixing are as common as new talents coming through the system. You don’t need to look elsewhere than Aamir, the 25-year-old, who ripped through the Indian top-order in his first spell of fiery fast bowling on a flat surface where no Indian bowler could extract anything.
Only six years ago in the same city not far away from the Oval at Lord’s, Amir had put the entire nation to shame by bowling no-balls as part of spot-fixing. Jail sentence followed, so did five years of wilderness from cricket. When he became eligible to play again, Ali and Mohammad Hafeez protested during a practice session. Former captain Rameez Raja wrote that bringing back Amir would set a bad precedent. But the road to redemption that began a year back at Lord’s against England was nearly completed at the
Oval against their arch-rivals.
Once Kohli departed, Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav followed inside 20 overs as the Indian fans, who came here expecting a good evening, left the stadium in a hurry. Pakistani fans took over. Hardik Pandya delayed their party for some time, but like their fans, India had a day to forget. Everything that had to go wrong, went awfully wrong for them. Winning the toss, Kohli chose to bowl on a placid wicket and saw the Pakistan batsmen led by Fakhar Zaman’s maiden ODI century post 338. It was always going to be a tall order in a high-pressure match, however good India’s batting may be.