The feeling and the euphoria are at a different level when an underdog in a sporting event comes out on top. This is what Pakistan proved in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy. Coming into the tournament as underdogs, they achieved the unthinkable. Similar to what they did during their 1992 World Cup campaign.
A decision to scrap the ICC Champions Trophy after the 2013 edition was taken by the ICC. However, in 2014, the decision was reversed and another edition was to be held in 2017. Only the top 8 ICC ranked teams by the cut-off date (30 September 2015) would be a part of the 2017 edition. Pakistan by the cut-off date were at No. 8 and had barely made it through. With the kind of start they had to the tournament, it suggested why they were at that position in the rankings.
Since the 2015 World Cup till the start of the Champions Trophy, Pakistan’s performance wasn’t great against the big guns. Almost all their wins came against teams like West Indies, Ireland, and Zimbabwe. Astonishingly, against Bangladesh, they had lost 3 out of 3 in this time frame. Low on morale they had to go up against arch-rivals India, in their first encounter. India were in red-hot form running into the Champions Trophy and looked like potential winners. Therefore India’s commanding win by 124 runs against Pakistan, proved to be no surprise.
Amidst all the darkness, a ray of light peeped through. The golden arm of Hasan Ali and Imad Wasim did the trick in their win against the Proteas, in the next game. Both of them shared five wickets at an economy of 2.7. The bowling effort from Pakistan gave comfort to their batsmen. They had a meager total of 220 to chase. By the 27th over in the chase, the rain gods interrupted and never gave way for the match to further go ahead. Pakistan were ahead on DLS method by 19 runs as they achieved a much-required win.
With a win over Sri Lanka in their next game, Pakistan had set up a semi-final clash against the home team, England.
The semi-final clash between Pakistan and England was definitely a contest between the best bowling team and the best batting team. England were one of those teams that had developed dashing one day batsmen. A 300+ score was on the cards almost every time England played, especially when in home conditions. Pakistan bowlers facing a daunting challenge, came out with flying colors once again. Hasan Ali was again the alpha of the pack with 3 for 35 in his full quota of 10 overs. Junaid Khan, Rumman Raees and Shadab Khan chipped in with wickets as England folded for 211. Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali motored the chase with a 118-run opening partnership. Unlike against Sri Lanka, Pakistan were sensible in their chase. With 8 wickets in hand, Pakistan, unpredictably were through to the final.
It was the first time in an ICC ODI event final that an Indo-Pak clash was to be seen. Both the teams were bloating with confidence on the back of emphatic victories in their semi-finals. The loss against India in their first match seemed to have no effect on a revamped Pakistani side.
After sending Pakistan into bat first, Jasprit Bumrah had an opportunity to penetrate early. The opening pair of Azhar Ali and Fakhar had done exceptionally well with consecutive half-century partnerships prior to this. Fakhar edged one to MS Dhoni off Bumrah, only to be judged a no-ball with further assistance from the TV umpire. Fakhar was batting on 3 when the incident happened. The mistake cost India a 111 runs as he went on to score a superlative century and Pakistan ended with 338/4. In a final against a bowling line-up that had bounced back, it was an uphill task to chase.
It’s not that India hadn’t chased a 300+ target before in a final, it was just the pressure which told on them eventually. It was a bowlers’ delight to watch Mohammad Amir tear through the Indian top-order. The centurion in the semi-final, Rohit Sharma was sent packing for a duck to the third delivery of the innings. In his next over, he hunted down Virat Kohli and in the penultimate over of the first powerplay (1-10), Shikhar Dhawan was his third victim. India could never recover from the early blows and they kept losing wickets. There was a dim chance when Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja were batting, but that also vanished when Pandya was run-out for a 43-ball 76. Pakistan cruised to a 180-run victory and won their first Champions Trophy title. Hasan Ali was named as the player of the series for his 13 wickets in the tournament. An underdog team that was led by a skipper who took up the responsibility just a series before the Champions Trophy, were now the big cats of the world.