Pakistan have secured their first Champions Trophy title, after thrashing India by 180 runs at the Oval on Sunday.
Mickey Arthur must be pinching himself. The former Proteas coach was at a loss for words when he had to walk into that press conference after he had to see his side lose by 124 runs DLS to India in their Champions Trophy opener. Fast forward two weeks, and Pakistan are the champions.
It was their first-ever appearance in the Champions Trophy final, and this victory, which ended a seven-match streak of losing to India in major tournaments, adds to their 1992 World Cup and 2009 World T20 titles.
It’s a rivalry embedded in deep-seated political conflict, which has been transferred on to the cricket field, and up until now the competitiveness of the contest has been severely lacking. Pakistan have seemingly got better with each game they’ve played, and saved their best for last against the defending champions and overwhelming favourites.
It started with a rain-assisted victory over the Proteas, before a record eighth-wicket stand between Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir saw them pull off an unlikely victory over Sri Lanka. Then came the hammering of England, and the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Indian side came as they were closed out by two individuals who will shape this Pakistan side for years to come.
The first individual comes in the form of Fakhar Zaman, a 27-year-old opener who only made his debut in that win against the Proteas. Since the 31 he scored at Edgbaston, he’s gone on to score two fifties and a maiden century, providing the spark that was so desperately lacking from Pakistan’s top-order at that point.
Zaman, together with the help of Azhar Ali, got their side to 128-0 after 22.5 overs, this after being inserted to bat against a side that had only lost 12 wickets throughout the whole tournament. Then came the mix-up in the middle that led to Ali being run out for 59, but Zaman pushed on, and brought up three figures off just 92 balls. Things could’ve been dramatically different had Jasprit Bumrah not overstepped when Zaman was given out lbw on three.
When Zaman departed for 114 off 106 balls, Pakistan were already on 200-2, and Babar Azam navigated them through the middle overs, until Mohammad Hafeez did the damage at the death. Azam scored 46, before Hafeez (57 off 37) and Imad Wasim (25 off 21) struck 71 off the last 7.3 overs to get their side to 338-4.
It was going to take an effort of record-breaking proportions for India to secure back-to-back titles, but they would’ve felt they were right in it, given their batting displays leading up to this. To put it into perspective, MS Dhoni had only needed to bat once from the four matches.
But cue the second individual. Mohammad Amir’s participation in this match was in doubt after missing the semi-final with a back spasm. It was clear that he was going to play, even if he wasn’t 100%, but the thought process was that a 50% Amir would be good enough to play, and so he proved.
Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli went into this, occupying three of the top five batting spots. Amir proceeded to remove all of these players in a terrifying six-over spell. He trapped Sharma lbw for a duck just three balls in, then he forced a mistimed cut-shot by Kohli (5) in his next over, a ball after Ali put Kohli down in the slips. He forced an edge out of Dhawan (21) in his fifth over. At 33-3, India were in dire straits.
Suddenly India’s middle-order needed to come to the party, but the problem is they hadn’t been required throughout the event. Coming in a bit cold, Yuvraj Singh was trapped lbw for 22, thanks to a clever review from young leg-spinner Shadab Khan, before Dhoni slapped one straight to Imad Wasim at point for four.
A bit of resistance from Hardik Pandya gave the Indian faithful at the Oval a glimmer of hope as he was involved in an 80-run stand with Ravindra Jadeja. Pandya scored 68 of those, and when he was run out for 76 off 43 balls, which included four fours and six sixes, that was it for India.
Amir wasn’t needed beyond his first spell. The tournament’s leading wicket-taker with 13, Hasan Ali, saw off the tail with 3-19, as Pakistan bowled India out for 158. It wasn’t just a victory, it was complete annihilation. Pakistan are the deserved winners of 2017 Champions Trophy.
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