The old cliche about Pakistan cricket is that you cannot forecast what they will pull off on a given day. But, recent trends hadn’t given much hope to their fans.
They came into the tournament ranked bottom and with a 2-1 series win against the West Indies which should have been 3 - 0. Like every ICC tournament off late, they struggled to find the right combinations. The suspensions of their leading players – Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, and Muhammad Irfan – because of an ongoing corruption investigation further aggravated the situation. The only hard-hitter in the side, Umar Akmal, was booted out of the 15-member squad because of his inability to maintain the desired fitness standards.
Despite a promising change in leadership - replacement of Azhar Ali with Sarfraz Ahmed – they weren’t expected to go beyond the group stages.
Miracle? God, like 25 years ago, listened to the prayers of the nation? Or Pakistan pulled off a Pakistan? The last one sounds better.
Pakistan’s Champions Trophy campaign was off to a disaster. India thrashed them by 124 runs in a rain-shortened contest at Edgbaston as Sarfraz Ahmed’s men faltered in all three facets – batting, bowling, and fielding.
But, two days later, they pounced back in the tournament to dismantle world’s number one one-day side, South Africa, and edged into the semi-finals after a nail-biting encounter against Sri Lanka.
Hasan Ali was the Player of the tournament - AFP
Once in the semis, Pakistan looked a totally different side.
Up against England, the favourites to win the tournament, that too in their home conditions (even if Eoin Morgan refused to acknowledge that) Pakistan recorded a comprehensive win. They limited England, a side that had scored 300 or more in half of their matches since the 2015 World Cup, to a mere 211 and chased it with perfection.
Pitted against arch-rivals India in the final, Pakistan completed their fairytale campaign with a stunning victory by 180 runs, destroying them with their batting and bowling brilliance.
The timely change of tactics. Sarfraz Ahmed had promised an ‘out of the box’ approach against India in his side’s campaign opener. However, that turned out to be a tactical disaster. Using spin at the top of the innings, that too against the likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan cost his side the match. So, the Pakistan skipper reverted to typical Pakistan tactics.
In the next group match against South Africa, he used pace initially and brought the spinners on to scuff up the ball. He then unleashed havoc in the latter overs in the shape of Hasan Ali’s reverse swing. The pattern continued throughout from there onwards as Hasan, who was awarded the Golden Ball for being the highest wicket-taker of the tournament, kept on bagging three wickets in every match.
Fakhar Zaman top scored the final with 114 and was awarded Player of the tournament - AFP
Their batting also showed up in the finals. However, the much-needed change in the approach was sparked with the inclusion of Fakhar Zaman in the match against the Proteas. The left-handed opener gave Pakistan solid starts and struck two vital back to back 100-plus opening stands along Azhar Ali in the semi-final and final.