When India began its chase of 339 and wickets started to tumble, leaving the team tottering at 54/5, it was like the bad old times. There was no miracle in store as India capitulated completely, and Pakistan ran away to a memorable 180-run win in the Champions Trophy final — the biggest victory margin in the final of any ICC ODI tournament.
And to think that the month of June hadn’t started well for Pakistan cricket — India had walloped them and Imran Khan, Pakistan cricket legend, was in mourning. “It’s painful to watch Pak being thrashed by India without putting up a fight,” he tweeted on June 4 after India cantered to a 124-run win in their first match of the tournament. Other Pakistan legends were sighing and lamenting.
That’s when the Pakistan cricket team began to stir: South African went down, Sri Lanka followed and England were blown away. And now this, their biggest victory over India in One-Day Internationals.
“After the India match (in the group stage), one thing I said to my boys was the tournament hasn’t finished yet,” Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed said after the momentous victory. “It’s a very important boost for us to win this. When we arrived here, we just played like we have nothing to lose.”
While India touched their peak form a match early — their semi-final win over Bangladesh was flawless — Pakistan timed their run perfectly. Even in the final, they didn’t quite hit the ground running — India had their chances in the opening hour of the game — but once they did, there was no stopping them.
Opener Fakhar Zaman, born in the North-West Frontier Province, a late-bloomer at 27 who made his ODI debut in the Champions Trophy, played the biggest game of his life. His 114 at strike rate of 107, took Pakistan to 338.
Another fairytale would unfold at the start of the Indian innings. In a country where he was shamed, put behind bars for spot-fixing, Mohammad Amir redeemed himself. Only 25, Amir, in his short career, has seen the kind of ups and downs that few have. At the Oval, the roller coaster surprised him again; it took him to giddy heights that even he had never experienced. In his first five overs, he scalped India’s Top 3 — Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. These were in-form batsmen, who, on their day, are capable of single-handedly winning matches. But today was Zaman’s day, Amir’s day and Pakistan’s day.
After his afternoon spell of 6-2-16-3 , Amir didn’t return to bowl. He didn’t need to; he had done enough to ensure that Sarfraz held the glittering silverware aloft in the evening.
Like Pakistan, a country fighting isolation, Sarfraz too has had to work hard to prove his leadership credentials on the big stage. The win couldn’t have been timelier for both the country and its captain. Even before the final, the hard-to-please community of former Pakistan players had been cynical towards Sarfraz.
However, after this long evening of celebrations at the Oval, and all across Pakistan, Sarfraz would now join the pantheon of Greats in Green. What Lord’s is to India, Kapil Dev and the Class ‘83, Oval will be to Pakistan, Sarfraz and this Class of ‘17.
As for India, they seemed to have been carried away. Maybe, this generation of cricketers did not have the experience of facing the mercurial Pakistanis on a big day, especially when they have been written off or labelled as underdogs.
It would have perhaps been a touch better if India had shown some wariness. Perhaps then, they wouldn’t have committed a series of mistakes and set Pakistan up for a massive win. The decision at the toss to choose to chase on a big day, to pit yourself against Pakistan’s best weapon — their bowling — was the first. Then the spinners, led by R Ashwin, were so defensive that India lost the crucial middle overs. The captain didn’t come up with any intervention, preferring to plod along with the status quo and Pakistan’s march turned imperious.
Over the years, India beating Pakistan in big tournaments had become inevitable. But it all changed this English Sunday.