For the first 50 overs it felt like the ICC had hired help from the TfL Road Network (it looks after London roads) to prepare The Oval pitch for the Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan. The ball hardly moved off the deck, and there was absolutely no turn for the Indian spinners. Things, however, changed drastically once Mohammad Amir had the ball during India’s chase.
Rohit Sharma was beaten for pace and movement in the third delivery and departed. Amir then cast a spell on Virat Kohli, forcing an outside edge, put down by Azhar Ali at first slip, followed by a leading edge next ball to be taken by Shadab Khan at point. Rohit was fresh from his 123 not out in the semi final and also shared an unbroken 178-run partnership with Kohli against Bangladesh at Edgbaston. Amir sucked the life out of Indian batting in the final before he had finished his second over.
There was still the small matter of taking out Shikhar Dhawan, the tournament’s most consistent batsman. A cross-seamer in the corridor did the trick. Amir’s first spell on Sunday was reminiscent of Wasim Akram’s back-end charge at the MCG in the 1992 World Cup final. Akram had cleaned up Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis in successive deliveries to secure the crowning glory for Pakistan. Amir’s bowling yesterday was even more impactful, given that he had been up against the world’s best batting line-up in the 50-over format. If Lord’s 2010 was his hour of shame, The Oval 2017 saw his redemption.
Pakistan’s revival in this year’s Champions Trophy was pretty similar to their World Cup resurrection 25 years ago. There also, they looked down and out after being beaten by India in the group phase. Here, they started off with big defeat against India at Edgbaston. Sarfraz Ahmed’s team had been criticised to smithereens. Their response took down South Africa, Sri Lanka, hosts England and defending champions India, as the young unit deservedly lifted the cup.
This was even more creditable than their 1992 World Cup achievement. All said and done, Imran Khan’s side had some giants of the game in the skipper himself, Javed Miandad, Akram, and also a sparkling young talent Inzamam-ul-Haq.
The class of ’17 lacked stars but had enough potential to upset any team on their day. It’s open to disagreement that how many people outside Mardan knew Man of the Match Fakhar Zaman before the final, or how many column-inches Man of the Series Hasan Ali had prior to the Champions Trophy. For a team that has had been bereft of a home game for the last eight years, the triumph bordered on the unthinkable. Starting the event as a rank outsider, No. 8 in the ICC rankings, made their success awe-inspiring.
The Oval witnessed Mickey Arthur’s redemption as well. Four years ago he had been unceremoniously sacked as Australia coach after a failed Champions Trophy campaign. It came on the heels of the infamous Homework-gate in India. He had one foot on the trapdoor after the first match this term. The breathing space is well earned.