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Mohammad Amir is spewing expletives at Azhar Ali. He has his reasons. With a classic away- moving delivery, he had got Virat Kohli to edge the ball. Ali, at first slip, had grabbed the ball with anxious hands and floored it. The best run-chaser in world cricket had got a life. Amir was furious.
The next ball pitches around the same length but this time, Kohli has moved across a little to cover the line and tries to play his trademark wristy flick. The ball, though, takes the leading edge and flies at a rapid pace to young Shadab Khan, who leaps in the air and pouches it at point. And there’s pandemonium at the Oval.
Amir is screaming, rushing towards no-one in particular with his arms spread out. Pakistan have their man. Pakistan believe.
In a country where he lost his youth and innocence, Amir’s found himself again. Eight years after he announced himself on the world stage, Amir has set Pakistan well on their way to be champions of the world again. And they don’t have to wait too long as India crumble and fall to a rather humiliating defeat, losing by 180 runs to give up their Champions Trophy crown.
Before and after getting India’s MVP, Amir had struck two vital blows. In the very first over, he trapped Rohit Sharma in front with a kind of delivery that he’s always turned heads with — fast and snaking back into the right-hander.
In his fifth over, Amir sent Shikhar Dhawan back. It’s a delivery that holds its line. Dhawan’s expecting it to move away. But it doesn’t. Amir has deceived him, holding it cross-seam. And Dhawan gets a faint outside edge and is snapped up by Sarfraz Ahmed. India are still only in their ninth over, but have lost their top three batsmen, the same three who have taken all comers to task throughout the tournament. They never recover, despite a breathtaking blitz from Hardik Pandya that suddenly gives them faint hope. That it was cut short by a silly run-out just exemplified the kind of day India were having.
Their performance on the field was ridden with sloppy errors — 25 extras and Jasprit Bumrah overstepping the line while getting Fakhar Zaman, who went on to score a decisive ton, caught behind. Their spinners, too, ended up having an off day, Ravindra Jadeja, in particular, dishing out a number of loose, short deliveries. Bumrah, the no-ball apart, ends up having his worst day of the tournament, even failing to finish his quota of overs.
And after having dominated the rest of the field with their batting might, the batting collapse, it seemed, was just around the corner. The law of averages that often decides important moments in sport simply had to catch up, or so it seemed. Once the top order was taken out by an inspired Amir, it was the turn of their younger players to make a name for themselves, which they did. Shadab Khan got rid of Yuvraj Singh, his decision to force Sarfraz into taking the review as impressive as the delivery.
Then Hasan Ali had MS Dhoni hooking straight to the deep backward square-leg fielder. India’s comprehensive campaign over the last three weeks in England was coming to an anti-climactic and rather humbling end.
Pakistan’s, on the other hand, was peaking exactly when they wanted it to. They were a broken lot after the first loss to India in Birmingham. But they turned it around ever since with a series of impressive victories against some of the favourites, knocking out South Africa and England in the process. Here they were up against not just their arch rivals but also a team touted to defend their crown, without much of a fuss, especially once the hosts had been sent packing. The wins against South Africa and Sri Lanka had been, in a way, fortuitous with weather and dropped catches playing a role. The slow pitch in Cardiff had aided them against England. But here, on a pitch favouring India’s strengths, they ended up producing their most complete match.
A team that has been pulled up for having slipped behind the rest of the world in terms of the pace of ODI cricket had caught up when it mattered most. Their openers came out firing, the middle order paced the innings perfectly and they made the most of that foundation with an explosive finish to take the score well past 300. That Azhar and Mohammad Hafeez, two batsmen pointed out the most for their failings in the modern era of ODI cricket, played two of the most aggressive innings summed up their day, and their transformation.
Then Amir took over, finding redemption on his day of reckoning.