India thrashed Pakistan by 124 runs when the subcontinent giants squared off in their tournament opener in Birmingham.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur summed it up nicely when he said "the first match loss to India was an aberration...we knew we are much better than that". Four consecutive wins against four top teams are not "upsets"; it is called playing good cricket consistently.
It was not supposed to be that way in anyone’s script of the Champions Trophy. Ranked at number 8, deprived of international cricket at home and battling odds at every forum against an adversary that practically runs international cricket these days this victory was the sweetest of them all.
This transformation of the team actually took more than two years and there are many reasons for it. The change of captain, retirement of senior players and induction of talented youngsters into the team at the right time and age and two years of Pakistan Super League (PSL) in Dubai have all contributed.
The last changes in the side (exclusion of Wahab Riaz and Ahmad Shehzad and inclusion of Fakhar Zaman and Junaid Khan) made a difference. All of a sudden the world’s best bowling attack was born, restricting the top four teams (South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and India) to under 250. Gone were the complaints about the game being unfairly dominated by the bat, the scrutiny of bat sizes and 300 being a par score.
Before PSL, the jump from Pakistan’s first class cricket into international cricket was a huge one and many youngsters were found lacking. The PSL changed that. The bright stars of today’s Pakistan’s cricket like Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Sharjeel Khan, Ruman Raees (and many more) were already playing first class cricket in Pakistan. PSL polished them with top international players and coaches and readied them for the international arena.
Pakistan were hopeless at the start of the tournament and actually played like a number eight, which was their ranking when they came in the tournament. But their batting — often considered fragile —managed to post 338 for four with the help of a fabulous century by Fakhar Zaman who amassed 114 off 106 balls.
Zaman, who is a Mardan born and averages over 50 in 50 overs cricket, finished the tournament as he highest run getter for Pakistan after making most of his luck when he edged one off Jasprit Bumrah only to see that the bowler had overstepped.
Pakistan had gone 35 ODIs without a century stand before the semi-finals but Fakhar in partnership with Azhar Ali stitched back to back 100-run opening stands.
Pakistan’s comeback in the tournament was largely due to Fakhar’s effort at the top. It is remarkable that the left-handed opening batsman now has two 50s and a hundred in first four ODIs of his career.
India captain Virat Kohli in the press conference admitted that their plans didn’t work against Fakhar, even though the batsman was playing high risk shots.
Pakistan cricket is often termed mercurial however their four back to back wins have proved that they can be consistent performers too.
A nation that was written off before the start of the tournament managed to win hearts with the spirit of the youth.
Hasan Ali, the player of the tournament, took thirteen wickets which is joint-most with West Indies' Jerome Taylor in a one edition of the ICC Champions Trophy.
“I dedicate this victory to my mother who always fasts whenever I am playing," said Hasan after the victory.
He demonstrated an intelligent cricketing mind by using his pace variations and took regular wickets in the middle overs against South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and India.
Pakistan are often criticised for their lack of structure but have always been a team of momentum. If history is anything to go by their wins in tournaments have come at the back of peaking at the right time.
Junaid got eight wickets in the tournament and proved to be a great new ball user along with Mohammad Amir. He also played a vital role in the middle over by giving breakthroughs and containing runs.
Ahmed Shehzad, who is looking a completely different batsman from what he was four years ago, was replaced by Zaman.
Zaman was streaky in the beginning against India with a lot of top edges but overcame his troubles to played a brave knock. He became the first Pakistan batsman to score 100 in the final of an ICC event.
The left-hander was previously part of the Pakistan Navy. He has taken a liking to left arm spinners and as a first class player demonstrated his command over them when he smashed Ravindera Jadeja to all parts of the ground.
Mohammad Amir who missed the semi-final due to a back spasm proved why he is considered as Pakistan’s premier fast bowler as he set the match up by trapping Rohit Sharma leg before wicket in the very first over of the innings.
It was the ideal in-swinger bringing Sharma forward to set the tone of the match.
Kohli managed a lucky escape as he was dropped by Azhar Ali at the first slip before slicing one to the point.
Amir demonstrated his skills further and had Shikhar Dhawan caught behind and with that demolished the top three men in form for India.
The coach Mickey Arthur was extremely proud of the effort of the team.
“The whole group kept believing. We always knew we were better than what we showed in the first game,” he said.
With the three new comers in the side - Fahim Ashraf, Rumman Raees and Zaman - Pakistan managed to put up a stellar performance in the tournament.
The Pakistan team was jinxed against India in international tournaments after losing the cliff-hanger final in 2007 when Misbah-ul-Haq was caught at short fine leg trying to scoop one over for a boundary. It had to take a final to break that jinx and Pakistan did it in emphatic style. This win could possibly pave the way for a new found confidence and self-belief in this team that augurs well for future matches.