New Delhi: They might be arch-rivals on the field, but Indian and Pakistani players have often spoken about the warmth and bonhomie they share off it. And that was evident once again on the eve of the much-awaited final between India and Pakistan in the Champions Trophy on Saturday. Former India skipper MS Dhoni was photographed holding Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed’s son Abdullah.
The photo went viral on social media as many Pakistani fans posted it. In fact, some even went to the extent of praising Dhoni for the gesture and said that such actions make him a favourite with the people of Pakistan.
Sarfraz ahmed's son with the world best Captain Ms Dhoni,The reason I am his big fan from Pakistan👏 #love #respect #PAKvIND #INDvPAK #CT17 pic.twitter.com/ytqbdvcys7— Ibrahim Yousafzai (@Ibrahimusufzai) June 17, 2017
Title-holders India will be firm favourites against a Pakistan side who were the lowest ranked of all the teams taking part in a tournament featuring the world’s top-eight one-day international sides.
It was only on June 4 that India launched their title defence with a 124-run rout of Pakistan at Edgbaston. Yet even by their own “unpredictable" standards, Pakistan’s transformation since that reverse has been remarkable and on Wednesday they knocked previously unbeaten tournament hosts England out of the competition with a comprehensive eight-wicket win in Cardiff.
Pakistan have yet to play a match at the Oval this tournament but in bowling coach Azhar Mahmood, who spent several seasons at his “second home" playing for Surrey, they have someone familiar with all the vagaries of the London ground.
Those hoping for a thrilling Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan at the Oval on Sunday may take heart from the only other occasion the arch-rivals have met in the climax of a major ICC world event.
Twenty20, pioneered as a professional sport in the English county game, was still in its global infancy a decade ago, when Johannesburg hosted the 2007 World Twenty20 final, with many players inclined to treat it as just a bit of fun compared to the more serious business of one-day internationals and Test matches.
The New Zealand team even took to wearing ‘retro’ kits and sporting ‘comedy’ facial hair in T20 internationals.
But the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa was arguably the moment cricket’s newest kid on the block achieved sporting adulthood.
There had been concerns among many Indian officials about the impact of Twenty20, amid fears its abbreviated time frame might lead to a reduction in commercial revenues from ODIs, with sponsors, and therefore broadcasters, unwilling to commit funds in similarly vast quantities to a much shorter game.
But just as India’s shock defeat of the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final at Lord’s sparked a shift in focus from Test to ODIs in the world’s second-most populous nation and thus, eventually, in global cricket as a whole, so the 2007 World Twenty20 final is now seen as something of a staging post.
The match itself, which followed India’s ‘bowl out’ win after a group stage tie with Pakistan, was a classic.
India fought hard to get to 157 for five before some excellent bowling left Pakistan seemingly down and out, with 54 needed to win off 24 balls and a mere three wickets in hand.
Yet Misbah-ul-Haq revived the contest by thumping off-spinner Harbhajan Singh for three sixes.
Come the last over, Pakistan needed 13 to win with Misbah on strike but only one wicket now standing.
Then India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni — who will be in action again on Sunday — gave the ball to the inexperienced Joginder Sharma, who bowled a wide.
Misbah then hit a full toss for six and victory was within Pakistan’s grasp as they now needed six more runs off the remaining four balls.
But Misbah, moving across his stumps, failed to connect properly with a scoop down to fine leg — now a commonplace shot but in 2007 still daringly unorthodox — and S Sreesanth held a catch at short fine leg to spark scenes of jubilation among millions of India fans worldwide.