London (AP) — Only Pakistan’s mercurial reputation gave anyone pause about their slim-to-none chance of winning the Champions Trophy.
The Pakistanis were written off before the tournament. Isolated now for eight years, they’d dropped to an eighth ranking out of eight and were the last team to qualify. They were written off again after their first match, a humbling 124-run loss to India. With the odds against them stacking higher and higher, they upset South Africa, overcame Sri Lanka, and shocked England to reach their first Trophy final; a rematch with their neighbour and nemesis.
India entered the final on Sunday at The Oval having beaten Pakistan seven straight times in global tournaments since 2011, and overwhelmingly favored to retain the trophy.
Cricket’s biggest rivalry hasn’t been much of a rivalry on the field but that didn’t matter to their fans. A full house along with an estimated global TV audience of around 365 million – the third highest for a cricket match – tuned in and witnessed history.
And not by a whisker. The Pakistanis demolished India by 180 runs.
Pakistan, ominously made to bat first – the team batting first lost six of the seven previous finals – racked up a final-record innings of 338-4, founded on a 128-run opening stand between Fakhar Zaman, who earned his maiden one-day international century with 114, and Azhar Ali, whom Fakhar helped to run out on 59.
India, playing for a record third Trophy title in a record fourth final, were then blown away for 158 in the 31st over.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed took the last catch and aeroplaned around the pitch with his arms out before he was swamped by teammates.
“Hopefully, this win everyone will remember, not today, not tomorrow, (but for a) very long, long time,” Ahmed said.
That’s guaranteed. Ahmed said previously that the rivalry can turn players into lifelong heroes, and Fakhar and strike bowler Mohammad Amir fit the bill.
Fakhar should have been out for 3 in the fourth over, caught behind, but Jasprit Bumrah delivered a no ball. India were made to pay.
Fakhar and Azhar combined for 128, the first consecutive opening century partnerships by Pakistan in 14 years. After Azhar was run out, Fakhar shrugged that off, too, and scored a maiden century in his fourth one-day international. He danced to the other end, waved his bat, and kissed the pitch.
The sixth ever century in a Trophy final ended in the 34th over at 200-2. Fakhar scored 114 off 106 balls.
For once, the Pakistan middle order didn’t waste the great start, and Mohammad Hafeez (57 not out) and Babar Azam (46) helped to net 91 runs in the last 10 overs, to give Pakistan’s bowlers an impressive total to defend.
India were asked to produce the highest successful run chase in Trophy history, and had the weapons to do it. The top order of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, and captain Virat Kohli came to the final having combined for 874 runs, more than 80 percent of the team’s tally in the tournament.
But Sharma was out lbw for a duck off the third ball, Kohli hit out for 5, and Dhawan, the player of the 2013 tournament and a candidate for this one, edged behind on 21.
All three were gone after nine overs, five of them fierce seam bowling by Amir, who was passed fit to play after missing the semifinals because of a back spasm. Amir took out all three of India’s premier batsmen, bowled a maiden for figures of 6-2-16-3, then watched as his teammates mopped up.
“They made us make those mistakes because of the way they were bowling and the way they applied the pressure in the field, and we have no hesitation or shame to admit that we could not play our best game today,” Kohli said. “We were outplayed in all departments.”
The turnaround against India in two weeks, from 124-run losers to 180-run winners and champions, was affirmation for Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s coach of 13 months.
He said the team came to the tournament already convinced it could win a first global ODI title in 25 years. Losing to India first up was regarded as a stumble, a bad day.
The players praised Arthur and the management for reminding them how they were still good enough. Arthur praised the players for being honest about their failings, and regrouping.
“They kept on believing, they kept on trusting their roles, they kept on trusting the game plan that Saffy and I had set up,” Arthur said. Still, he admitted, “the way they turned it around was unbelievable.”