It was on a warm autumn day a few years back that Pakistan lost to their hosts and the minnows of worlds cricket Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club. As the Zimbabwean home crowd cheered in ecstatic delight, an utterly dejected Pakistani side realized that they had sidled all the way down to the 9th place in first class cricket. There was no way they could fall further in the rankings since they had already hit rock bottom as per the International Cricket Council rankings.
Now, apart from being trashed by the Zimbabwe side, the more ominous aspect of this terrible defeat was the fact that had it taken place just a mere thirty-six hours earlier only, Pakistan would have failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy. Yes 3rd October 2015 was undoubtedly a day of ignominy for the Pakistani side. It took a lot of wheeling and dealing by the Najam Sethi led PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) to help make sure that we just managed to hang on to the 8th spot so that we can be part of the exclusive club that consisted of the top eight teams in the world to qualify for the ‘Champions” trophy.
As the years passed there were barely any improvements on the ODI side even as it clung to a plethora of middle aged players for the perfectly simple reason that they had no idea what else to do. Apart from isolated flashes of brilliance here and there, the state of Pakistani cricket remained abysmal at best.
The champions’ trophy was almost certain to be more of the same or so thought pretty much the rest of the world. And indeed, in this respect at least they did not disappoint at all and were systematically crushed by arch rivals India. For both the Pakistani team as well as their fans, it was business as usual and entirely to be expected by a side that should by rights did not even have the right to even be in the tournament to begin with. (It was the ‘champions’ tournament after all, remember?
And then something happened. No one knows quite what it was or how it happened or even for that matter what. But it still happened nevertheless. A Pakistani side that had their back to the wall, finally decided that enough was too much and took matters pretty much into their own hands.
Their victims were the highest ranking side in the ICC world rankings. When South Africa walked onto the field the match was all but a formality. The ultimate David vs. Goliath if ever there was one. The highest ranking side vs. the lowest one. It would have been almost painful to watch. And it was. In a format known to routinely gives 300 plus runs the mighty South Africans were restricted to 218/9. A target that the Pakistani batsmen breezed through like it was nothing. The tournament’s highest ranked team was dismissively brushed aside by its lowest ranked side with near contemptuous ease.
Ah well, flukes happen, we all know that. Enter the Sri Lankans, who would surely put the minnows in their place. A task that they set about quite rapidly even though they were restricted to only 235 all out. An easy enough target for a resurgent Pakistani side.
But then again, Pakistan happened. The top order crumpled like a house of card and they were struggling all over again.
Sri Lanka’s batsmen had chased down 322 against India barely a day before in the previous game. Pakistan bundled them out for a paltry 236. An opening stand of 74 made the match appear as little more than a formality since all that was required were a mere 162 runs with 10 wickets to spare.
But then Pakistan happened. In typical fashion, Sarfaraz’s merry men proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot as per their time honoured tradition. 92-1 became 110-4 became 137-6. Suddenly, the good captain Sarfaraz Ahmed was left with only his bowlers and still 100 more runs left to win. Pakistan may have defeated the world’s best ranked side in their last match but here they faced an even deadlier enemy; their own selves. But Sarfaraz proved to be the rock that never stirred from his place. And before you know it, Pakistan were into the semifinals with only England standing in the way of their finals berth.
It was truly bad luck for the hapless English that they got in the way of the Pakistani Juggernaut. The near invincible Pakistani side did to them what it does best to all of them.
The English were pretty confident that Pakistan’s luck had ‘run out’ (bad pun intended). After all, they had edged out Sri Lanka on a wing and a prayer only. Surely this lowly ranked Pakistani side was going to meet their comeuppance in the semifinal. After all the English were pretty much the only side who had not lost a single game in the group stages. Surely, it was time for the Men in Green to read the handwriting on the wall and meekly surrender to their inevitable fate. After all there are limits to even a dream run. Right?
But alas, how the mighty had fallen. Pakistani the giant killers went about their business with admirable gusto and the English were out of the tournament in front of a utterly shocked packed to capacity crowd on their very own home ground. And at 211 they really had little to show for their efforts. Pakistan not only defeated England but they dominated them from start to finish. The team that never scores less than 300 could not even reach the teens of their two hundred… The team with the lowest chance to win the title had knocked out the most likely team to do so. Against all odds, and unlikely as it seemed. Pakistan had reached the finals of the champions tournament.
But the Final was with India of the “Mauka Mauka” fame. The decades of clashing against the Indian Jinx. What the Indian Media proudly presented as “Surgical strike two point O.” Pakistan put paid to their Indian “Jinx” once and for all.
The Indian skipper Virat Kohi . Kohli, who had almost one and a half dozen hundreds when batting second. This is the same Kohli that had once clobbered Pakistan for 183 not out and chased 330 runs in less than 48 overs once upon time. He was dropped, only to walk back to the pavilion at the next ball. Kohli the best batsman in the world.
Pakistan’s performance was sublime almost to the point of being supernatural. It was not just pure magic it was just plain unfair. How many bowlers have been able to get Kohli’s prized scalp in two consecutive balls? If that is not sheer unadulterated magic, I don’t know what is.
But then both Amir and Junaid were on fire. Both have bowled maiden overs. In a match as high striking and with such high stakes as this one.
It was this team ranked an extremely lowly 8th over the past few years that went into the tournament as the worst underdogs this competition has ever seen. And proved that they deserved the ‘underdog” title quite well and thoroughly indeed. After all it was only on June 4, in their opening fixture of the 2017 Champions Trophy, that the Pakistani cricket fell to a 124-run defeat to arch-rivals India. It was as emphatic a defeat as you could expect in a tournament that featured only the best teams in the world. For many, it was just an confirmation of how low Pakistan had already fallen in the world of sports.
Not to mention that fact that in the form of their captain Virat Kohli and is Shikhar Dhawan, who has been touted as the holder of the Golden Bat, the leading run scorer of the tournament. Out before making even the ghost of an impact. This formidable duo was backed up by one of the most solid batting line ups in the world. However, they ware up against the most formidable bowling attack of the tournament. As was stated previously, Pakistan restricted South Africa to 219/8, bowled Sri Lanka out for 235 and bundled England for 211. So what happens when the immovable object meets the irresistible force? Well, one has to give and give they did.
In the final was not just their arch nemesis but their very bane, so many times over. The mighty India. That sleek and relentless winning machine India. Against whom this very Pakistan side had frozen so embarrassingly, in the opening game and had been systematically given an abject lesson in Cricket. The fairy tale was bound to end here. Still Pakistan refused to read the script. Still they refused to lie down. Still they refused to respect sides far above them in the rankings table. In hindsight, Pakistan had defeated their own intrinsic defeatist nature in pulling off that spectacular win against Sri Lanka. After that what kind of chance could England or India possibly have?
Fakhar Zaman, (only a mere) 3 matches old, hit all of India’s much vaunted bowling attack to all parts of the ball park as if he owned them. A 100-run opening stand — Pakistan’s first in a major ICC event pretty much set the tone of all that was to (almost) inevitably come.
This was a Pakistani team that had not scored 250 in any of their matches so far in the entire tournament. However, in this final they made the highest total of the tournament. A score of 339 was always going to be an absolutely massive task. For most teams, but India had time and again showed they were up to it. So powerful was their batting line up indeed. But that was before they ran into a one man demolition in the form of an ‘in form’ Mohammad Amir who ran through India’s elite top three of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli for all the world like the proverbial hot knife though btter. And remember, these were not ‘paper tiger’s at all. As a matter of fact, this dynamic trio had scored 874 runs between them in the four matches before this one, effectively making them, three of the top three run making machines in the whole tournament.
Here, when faced with the storm and the fury that was a fully charged up Amir aching for revenge from their first encounter, they could only manage a paltry twenty six among themselves. By the 10th over of that great chase it was all over barring the handwriting on the wall. India had lost the game and the tournament that was hanging on to this particular match.
In fact, it was not even a contest at all. In the end they lost by a humiliating 180 runs (and the margin would have been even higher… much much higher had it not being for a bit of fight from the middle order who did clobber a vain half a dozen sixes. ) The monster India had created in that opening defeat had come back to haunt them. Pakistan continue to stamp their own freakish version of the insanity of the modern sporting world in the game of cricket. The tournament’s lowest ranked side have now become the undisputed champions for the very first time in the history of the Champions trophy.
This was not so much as a game as a tremendous morale booster for a nation that had been reeling under the cumulative shocks of anything and everything under the sun, from terrorism to street crime to a lack of electricity in the sweltering summer heat. The spontaneous celebrations that erupted all over the country and indeed all over the world where Pakistanis were present, have been etched in the collective psyche of the whole nation.
For the weary denizens of this nation, Eid did not have to wait for a moon sighting, but it had come early, thanks to the stalwart warriors in green who had done their job so well.