Pakistan has not only won the Champions Trophy, it has dethroned India of the title as well. It is a watershed event for Pakistan ODI cricket, as before the tournament they were lingering at the bottom-most tiers of ranking charts, and after the tournament they rose to become the champions of the cricketing world. I think since last couple of years, times for underdogs have been ripe to send shockwaves around the world. Rise of Trump, Brexit, UK elections and finally, a Pakistan triumph in Champions Trophy are phenomena which had been all but written off before they transpired.
In their first group game against India, Pakistan won the toss, invited India to bat first and lost the match by 124 runs. In the tournament finale, India won the toss, elected to bowl first and lost by a staggering margin of 180 runs. Thus, toss did play a crucial role in both games, but to the benefit of the team that lost it; strange enough. But let’s not compare a group game with a final match. Finals are always different; players are under pressure; expectations are high; stadiums are filled; and viewership is in billions. On top of that, highest total ever chased in a final of an ICC tournament was 275. Moreover, highest run chase is 332 by India in their ODI history. Thus, India had to defy history and stats on two fronts. It was, therefore, too much to ask from team India there.
But ostensibly for Indian commentators and fans, there was never a problem whatsoever for Indian team at any stage. Even after displaying a terrible bowling performance and conceding a mammoth total of 338, Indians were gushing about how their bowlers contained Pakistan in last five overs. Not only that, they were contemplating a smooth Indian chase. In post innings podcast on Cricinfo, I heard Rahul Dravid envisioning a flawless run chase by champion Indian batsmen. He predicted that India would play somehow cautiously in first ten overs and then they would take off from there and win the match quite easily. I think he presumed that instead of Pakistani bowlers, Indian bowlers would be bowling in Indian innings as well. Same was the story with other Indian experts like Sanjay Manjreker, Sehwag, Ganguly and Ramiz Raja. Oops, the latter is a Pakistani, I forgot, my bad.
The tale of Indian arrogance was not limited to their commentary circle only. Their fans, celebrities and even players were riding on a legendary flying carpet. First, we regularly get to see how Indian fans resort to abusive language on every cricket page on social media. Anyone who even slightly points out some weakness in any Indian player, Indian fans attack him like he conducted a surgical strike on their country. Second, Indian celebrities, most notably Rishi Kapoor, kept showing us why whole cricketing world wanted to see Pakistan as winners, except, of course, minnows Afghanistan. Finally, Indian players indubitably epitomise professionalism nowadays. Still, when it comes to talk about an encounter against Pakistan, they somehow fail to conceal their inner feeling that Pakistan are a failed team. Virat Kohli, when he said that it was boring for him to think of final after India’s semi-final win, clearly insinuated that Pakistan would not be a threatening rival on the pitch. Thanks to Sarfaraz eleven who have shut the big mouths of Indian commentators, put a halt on stupid tweets by Inidan celebrities, made Indian fans log out of their Facebook accounts, and finally, teaching the Indian team a much needed lesson.
For Pakistan, it is a moment where shackles of losing against India on big occasions have been broken and an unprecedented resurgence in ODI cricket has completed. Who deserves the credit for this turnaround the most? Answering in a Sarfarazian way, obviously “the credit goes to the boys and team management”. But I’ll be a little specific when distributing the credit for this huge triumph. First of all, it is our skipper, Sarfaraz Ahmad, who has been a blessing for the team ever since he was awarded the captaincy. He had also beaten India in the Pakistan’s only Under-19 World Cup win. So, captaincy does make a difference in cricket. Sarfaraz, throughout the tournament, kept proving that: he can think out of the box, is capable of inculcating belligerent drives into his men’s nerves, and remains willing to make tactical changes even in winning combination. Replacing Shadab with Fahim Ashraf is a case in point. All these characteristics are fulcrum of a successful captain, and they were certainly missing in our previus ODI skippers. Second, the credit goes to the young lot. From the player of the tournament Hassan Ali to man of the match Fakhar Zaman, from a resuscitated Aamir to a confident Shadab Khan, the young players proved that it is sheer commitment with the job, and not the talent only, which makes things possible from impossible.
Winning the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 is the perfect take-off stage for Pakistan 50 overs cricket and an ideal set up for the 2019 World Cup. Pakistan have finally found a right team, possessing impeccable opening pair, solid middle order, talented spinners, good fielders, an intimidating bowling attack, and a passionate captain. The only area where Pakistan desperately need improvement is the absence of a power hitter down the order. To this end, Pakistan must prepare a lot of genuine hitters of the cricket ball. I recommend Fahim Ashraf, Sahibzada Farhan and Aamer Yamin for doing this crucial job. Today Hafeez’s innings also convinced me that the professor should bat down the order, and not at number four. Weaknesses aside, this trophy will bring a paroxysm of passion in Pakistan’s cricketing circuits and will presage a new era in our ODI history. I will end with reminiscing Shahid Afridi’s “prophetic” statement after his retirement. He said, “Pakistan is not producing talented crickters anymore”. Happy winning folks, with the hope that return of international cricket in Pakistan is imminent now.