On the penultimate day before the first semi-final against tournament favourites England, Micky Arthur spoke about how desperate these Pakistani boys are to go to the Oval and just 24 hours later, Sarfraz Ahmed’s boys have made sure that they are going to the Oval to feature in the grand final of ICC Champions Trophy 2017, their first final in a 50-over global competition since 1999.
This is some turnaround for this team, which looked down and out following the humiliating defeat against India in their first game. If you talk about unpredictability, this Pakistan performance in this tournament can be a classic case study.
After the humiliating defeat against India in the first match, Pakistan had to win their next three fixtures to make to the final and they did exactly that. First South Africa, then Sri Lanka and finally a commanding show against England –the Boys in Green with this kind of performance, have raised quite a few eyebrows in the cricketing world.
Pakistan was clear underdogs coming into this game against Eoin Morgan’s boys, who have been playing some emphatic white-ball cricket in recent years. Till the semi-final they were unbeaten. All odds seemed to favour them.
But on the ‘D-Day’, Pakistan just outplayed England in all three departments, which includes fielding as well. In fact, in the match, there was hardly any contest. It seemed like a complete miss-match as Pakistan looked too good for England.
Did England turn up at all?
In this semi-final, it all started for Pakistan with a bold decision of batting first by on that used Sophia Gardens wicket. However, at the end of the day, it turned out to be the right one.
Pakistan also had to battle with the unexpected injury of their strike bowler, Mohammed Amir. Debutant Rumman Raees took his place and ended up claiming two crucial wickets for just 44 runs in his nine overs in this crunch game.
What an impressive debut the youngster had! Pakistan just keep producing these young and talented pace bowlers.
The pitch did not suit the free flowing game of England and Pakistan were quick to realise that. Their variety in the bowling attack made life difficult for the English batsmen. Most impressively, there were signs of drastic improvement in fielding. At times, I had a feeling that was it the same team which played against India on June 4?
Their batting, which was struggling throughout the tournament also clicked at the right moment. What a valuable addition the young opener Fakhar Zaman has been for this team! He has added the much required spark in the batting order.Other batters like Azar Ali, Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez also rose to the occasion and took the final of this elite ODI competition. Pakistan have never won a global 50-over tournament since 1992. But now they are just one victory away from winning a major one.
Last time Pakistan won a global ICC event – was back in 2009 – the World T20 in England. Captain of that team Shahid Afridi, in his column for ICC, wrote about the thrilling turnaround of the Pakistan boys under the inspirational leadership of Srafraz.
“This was as good a performance as could be expected in a knockout game. It was after a long time that Pakistan dominated a strong opposition in all three departments of the game. I am absolutely thrilled by this incredible turnaround by Sarfraz Ahmed’s team and really proud of their resilience and commitment after a forgettable defeat to India in their first match.
“Pakistan’s win was set up by a top-class bowling effort, replicating performances against South Africa and Sri Lanka. Even an in-form England team struggled to break the shackles in the middle overs despite a solid start. For the third successive time, Pakistan roared back in contention with the older ball even as the spinners tightened the screws.”
This is the unpredictability of Pakistan. You cannot predict which Pakistan will turn out on a given day and thankfully for their fans, it was the optimistic Pakistan team which took the field against England.
Coach Arthur too spoke about the ‘unpredictability’ factor in his last press conference before the England game. He, in fact, termed it as one of the strengths of Pakistan cricket.
“Sometimes that’s our strength – our unpredictability. That’s what makes it very interesting. Emotionally, it’s tough at times. We give the guys clear roles, and the guys know what they need to do. It’s just we do sometimes make it difficult for ourselves.”
Well, whether it is a strength or not that is debatable, but it is the unpredictability factor which makes Pakistan cricket interesting.