If the 2017 Champions Trophy were to have had another two games, Pakistan might be scoring 750 and bowling teams out for negative 12 by the end of it. Even for a side that is routinely unpredictable, even for a team with a long history of starting slowly then making a white-hot charge through a tournament, what Pakistan have pulled off here is some diamond-studded, galactic-scale nonsense.
They have not just defied logic, they have spat in logic’s face, questioned the moral inclinations of its parents, kicked it in the shins, kneed it in the groin, strangled it unconscious, then shoved it into the mud and set its trousers on fire.
Remember how, before the match (how long ago that now seems), the cricket world thought India’s batsmen would put the match beyond Pakistan if they scored 300? Ha. What actually happened was that newbie opener Fakhar Zaman, playing his fourth international innings, hit 114 from 106 balls in one of the highest-pressure cricket matches of the decade, before a bristling middle order grew the total to 338 for 4, with the kind of power and skill which not even their mothers would have suspected they possessed.
Remember how the cricket world thought the key period in the contest would be the middle overs in India’s innings? In actual fact, Mohammad Amir would decapitate the India innings in a scintillating opening burst that brought him the scalps of each of the top three, and then by the middle of the 14th over, India would be 54 for 5, the trophy basically handed over.
Thank the cricket gods that Azhar Ali dropped Virat Kohli at slip in the third over, before Kohli was caught the very next ball. Thank heavens that Pakistan’s opening stand of 128 was brought to an end by a running mix-up, whereby both batsmen wound up on the same side of the pitch. Without such moments of incompetence, there is no chance we could plausibly accept this is the same side that lost their opening match to India by 124 runs.
The winning margin here was 180, just for the record. But it may as well have been 180 million, so ridiculous were Pakistan in this match.
It was also impossible, at times, to believe that India were the side playing their fourth major final in six years. The first mistake – the error that bust open the flood gates – was Jasprit Bumrah overstepping in the fourth over to reprieve Fakhar, who had edged the ball to the keeper on three. Soon, India were a mess of uncharacteristic misfields. By the end of the innings they had delivered 13 wides and three no-balls.
And perhaps no top order in the world could have survived Amir today, but the likes of Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni – big-daddy, big-match players – fell away with surprising meekness. Hardik Pandya swatted six sixes off spin and got himself 76 off 43 balls, giving India – six down now – a microscopic speck of hope. But then he was run out when a less-fluent Ravindra Jadeja refused to sacrifice his wicket. Pandya left the field breathing fire. That about encapsulated India’s day.
Not that fortune smiled on them either: at one point, in the death overs, a ball had even hit Mohammad Hafeez’s off stump, and failed to dislodge the bail.
Beyond Amir’s spectacular opening burst – in which Rohit Sharma was trapped in front by a seaming ball and Virat Kohli sent a thick leading edge to point – Shadab Khan insisted on an excellent review that found Yuvraj to be plumb in front of the stumps. Then after the rapid 80-run stand between Pandya and Jadeja, Hasan Ali wiped out the tail, finishing with match-figures of 3 for 19 (second only to Amir’s 3 for 16), and a table-topping haul of 13 wickets for the tournament. This, after he had missed the first game. India were all out in the 31st over.
But it was the batting that had set Pakistan’s victory up, and of all the surprises they have sprung this tournament, a snowballing innings such as this, in which only one batsman was dismissed for a score of less than 45, seems the most incredible. This was not an innings, really. It was a fantasy.
Even after Fakhar was reprieved by that no-ball in the fourth over, the wisps of madness that have defined Pakistan’s campaign were sprinkled right through his knock. Thick edges and mistimed shots off bouncers would become almost reliably fruitful for him – one particularly woeful leg-side heave in the 32nd over landing safe, just beyond midwicket. Constantly, Fakhar got himself into awkward spots and bad positions, and unfailingly, he would find a way to go through with the shot, and survive.
But there were also flashes of inspiration and the roaring ambition of Pakistan’s campaign. Uncowed by the near misses, he ran down the pitch to smite India’s quicks to the leg side. He flitted about his crease to manufacture shots against the spinners. With no little help from Azhar, he heaped pressure on key members of the opposition attack.
Bumrah was never allowed to recover from the shock of that early missed wicket, going for 24 in his first three-over spell, and 12 off the following two overs. R Ashwin was clattered around almost clinically in his initial spell – this mostly by Azhar – and he went for 28 from his first four overs as well. For the remainder of the innings, both bowlers struggled with their lines and lengths – Bumrah delivering too many hittable length deliveries, Ashwin bowling too predictably straight.
It was after Azhar’s dismissal, for which his partner can take most of the blame, that Fakhar raised the tempo to an extent that set Pakistan on track to their eventual score. He hit 15 runs off one Jadeja over (the 26th of the innings), then went after Ashwin next over as well. Having been 56 off 73 balls at one stage, he hit the remaining 44 runs he needed for a hundred off the next 19 balls. The off-balance sweep for four off Ashwin was a fitting way for this innings to go to triple figures.
Fakhar was out soon after, leaving Pakistan at 200 for 2 at the start of the 34th over, but Babar ensured the party would carry on. He was regal square on either side of the wicket, and in a particularly memorable sequence, slapped Pandya past point, then cracked him to the square-leg boundary next ball. Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim then took the baton from Babar, and together, added 71 off the final 45 balls of the innings – Hafeez especially effective as he hit three sixes and four fours in all, to wind up with an unbeaten 57 off 37 deliveries.
I mean, who even knew Hafeez was capable of such things? Did he? Sarfraz Ahmed, in his first major assignment as captain, played his part virtually perfectly, ceding his batting position to men who went on to score rapidly, then managing his bowlers astutely in the early overs.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Hardik Pandya delivered good spells, but India’s remaining bowling figures did not make for pretty reading. Bumrah, Ashwin and Jadeja all went at seven an over or higher.
There is no shame, though, in losing to a Pakistan side in
the kind of nuclear form that if ever harnessed, could solve the planet’s energy needs for centuries. There were a few areas that India could have brushed up, but nothing, perhaps, that might have changed the result.