In the aftermath of India’s flogging of Pakistan in the first round game, many of us took the opportunity to cast unflattering aspersions in the defeated team’s direction. Many of them were well worn, having been around for some time: Pakistan were unpredictable, highly volatile, mercurial. Many of them rang true. Pakistan are those things. They do play below their capabilities at times; they frequently blow hot and cold.
But some of what was said were also disparaging. India had beaten their arch-rivals by 124 runs under Duckworth/Lewis calculations. The result shows the chasm in quality between the two sides, some argued; Pakistan are just not good enough. What was forgotten, or ignored, is that not too much weight should be placed in a single game, especially a limited overs game. Any team, no matter how excellent, can have a poor outing.
What might also have been forgotten, in the moment, was that Pakistan is often a team fraught with talent, capable, on their good days, of soaring to rarified heights against even the best teams. It was wrong to have painted them as no-hopers, incapable of going past the best teams. “A lot of people thought we couldn’t defeat India,” offered captain Sarfraz Ahmed at the post-game press conference.
That they beat India, arguably the best ODI team in cricket, so comprehensively, by all of 180 runs, is a testament to their capacity as a team. It doesn’t always come to the fore, but it’s there, lurking in the long grass, pouncing like a tiger when you least expect.
India was in no way complacent on the day of the final. But they were thoroughly overwhelmed by a side that found their best selves at the most opportune time. They were beaten by a side that had all its moving parts working together in unison, purring like an elite race car. This harmonious functioning could all go awry tomorrow or the day after that. But Pakistan was able to summon it for this high occasion, sending their fans and supporters into a frenzy of well-deserved celebration.
As Sarfraz hinted, few had Pakistan as one of the favourites to win the trophy. They had the lowest ranking of all the teams in the tournament; they lost Wahab Riaz to injury. They do not have the big hitters that teams like South Africa and Australia and England have. And while their bowling unit was well respected, nobody expected that Hasan Ali would be the tournament’s most prolific wicket taker; and that bowlers like the teenaged leg-spinner Shadab Khan would play such a vital role; or that Runman Raees, a left-arm seamer on debut, would come into the team against England and more than hold his own.
Opener Fakhar Zaman made his debut during the tournament. He was stunning. His scores were 31, 50, 57, 114, all made with refreshing fearlessness and no little skill. He was lucky to be reprieved in the finals, caught by the keeper off a Jasprit Bumrah no-ball when on three. But he then had to make those additional 111 runs, which he did in style. Pakistan’s 338 was huge and match-winning. Without Fakhar’s knock, it is unlikely they’d have gotten even close to that total.
But if the 27-year-old lefthander was the one mainly responsible for pushing his side towards a good position with a huge total, Mohammad Amir’s opening spell virtually sealed the victory. One of the best swing bowlers in the game, he accounted for Rohit Sharma Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli during an exquisite opening burst of six overs.
India’s top three were in good form, and it was felt that for them to chase such a large total then much of the runs would have had to come from their bats. Amir’s three early wickets were, therefore, a dagger to the heart of India’s batting and the favourites never really recovered.
Amir’s dismissal of Kohli was particularly spectacular. To have forced the India’s best batsman, arguably the best batsman in the game and the acknowledged master of the run-chase into error twice in two deliveries, was something special. You could see how much Kohli’s demise meant to Amir and to Pakistan by the intensity of the celebration that followed.
The great Pakistan/India rivalry did not live up to the hype. Great rivalries often engender great contests. Think of Federer versus Nadal or Borg versus McEnroe in tennis, or Argentina versus their South American rivals Brazil in football. Frazier and Ali had a storied boxing rivalry, or recall Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics against Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers in Basketball. The result of intense rivalries are often a number of epic contests or series of contests that sometimes transcend the sport. Often, great rivalries push the participants to dig deep, play better, elevating the contests to legend.
Neither of the two India/Pakistan matches in the tournament were close, yet the rivalry remains. Pakistan’s march to victory, despite all the headwinds against them, will not easily be forgotten