If defeating the odds were an art, Pakistan is undeniably the Picasso of it. Time and again, they have bounced back from the oblivion in the ICC events to reach its summit. Three years ago today, they showcased the same ability to win their first Champions Trophy at the Oval in London. Their road was very much Pakistan-like, facing a drubbing in their opening game against India and bouncing back to emerge victorious in all the remaining matches.
Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men beat Sri Lanka and South Africa to reach the semi-finals, pitting themselves against the hosts and one of the firm favourites, England. Nevertheless, the Englishmen were no match either Pakistan sidelined them by eight wickets to storm into the final. And the tournament-decider was a match made in heaven – India vs Pakistan. It was Virat Kohli’s lions against Sarfaraz Ahmed’s reincarnated Tigers.
Pakistan couldn’t have selected a better stage to get back at their arch-rivals to compensate somewhat their years of winless World Cup games against India. Electing to field first, the men in blue had little idea what was coming their way. Opening batsman Fakhar Zaman, who was only three ODIs old then, had two fifties to his name. On the grandest stage, he reached the three-figure mark in the 30th over by playing a sweep shot off Ravichandran Ashwin.
The century formed the bedrock of Pakistan innings as Babar Azam, Azhar Ali, and Mohammad Hafeez played some useful hands to guide their side to 338. Jasprit Bumrah’s figures of 9-0-68-0 were, and till date his most expensive bowling figures in ODIs. It comprised a lifeline to Fakhar Zaman in his second over by overstepping that costed India 111 runs.
Could Pakistan have done anything wrong on that day?
Perhaps, a target of 339 had to have the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up licking their lips. Over the past few years, the men in blue adored chasing mammoth totals and did it with authority, spearheaded by captain Kohli, who cherishes it like no other batsman does. But The Oval on the 18th of June 2017, had Pakistan’s success folklore written all over it. And it witnessed the birth and rebirth of several cricketers in their side, making their nation fall in love with cricket all over again.
Having recovered from his back spasm, Mohammad Amir struck first blood in his third delivery by removing Rohit Sharma for a duck. Amir greeted the Indian captain with a jaffa and nearly had him in the third delivery of his second over. But Azhar Ali dropped a regulation catch at slip, and it indeed was a Herschelle Gibbs-moment for Pakistan. The very next delivery it was the opposing captain making his way to the pavilion as a leading-edge squirted to backward point. Commentator Nasser Hussain’s words sum it up: “Pakistan cricket at its best; one minute down, next minute up.”
In the ninth over, Amir stung India once more by removing the leading run-getter in the tournament, Shikhar Dhawan for 21. Before his brutal encounter with Hardik Pandya, Shadab Khan pressured Sarfaraz into a taking a review for the LBW decision that dismissed a dangerous Yuvraj Singh for 22. The former Indian captain MS Dhoni was the next to go as Hasan Ali joined the party as he got him with a short-pitched delivery for 4. While Shadab plucked Kedar Jadhav’s wicket after a short burst, Hardik Pandya gave the Indian fans a massive ray of hope.
The 23rd over witnessed Pandya hammering 23 runs, including three maximums and a boundary. He reached his half-century off 32 deliveries and had the one section of spectators roar again. Pandya launched an onslaught against the centurion, Fakhar Zaman, as well, taking him for 15 runs in the 26th over. And suddenly, Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja had put their side under reasonable control.
But that was all it was. The next over had Ravindra Jadeja put his partner in a precarious position that ran Pandya out for 76 off 43 balls. Midway into the 31st over, when Jasprit Bumrah spooned a delivery off Hasan Ali on the air. Fittingly, captain Sarfaraz Ahmed was the one to put the final nail on the coffin as Pakistan claimed a resounding victory by 180 runs. The competition saw the inception of captain Sarfaraz, Fakhar Zaman as an opening batsman, and Hasan Ali, who took three wickets in the final and 15 for the tournament.