Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The right side of destiny

LAID FOUNDATION: Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman, attempts to scoop a delivery over India’s wicketkeeper MS Dhoni during the ICC Champions Trophy final at the Oval in London, yesterday. Zaman top-scored with 114 as Pakistan went on to record a 180-run victory. —Photo: AP

Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that certain things are meant to be.
Like Pakistan’s cricketers thrashing favourites and defending champions India by 180 runs in yesterday’s Champions Trophy final at The Oval in London.
Yes, the same venue where Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw staged a memorable rearguard with an unbeaten ninth-wicket partnership of 71 to navigate the West Indies through the gloom and the cold of late September to a two-wicket win over hosts England in the 2004 final of the same competition.
So was it just luck on Sarfraz Ahmed’s side that they were able to rebound from what looked at the time to be a soul-destroying 124-loss to the same Indians in Birmingham at the start of the tournament two weeks earlier?
Pakistan’s captain took his team through to the knockout phase with a tense three-wicket victory in the last group game against Sri Lanka in Cardiff, but not before he was dropped twice – the first an absolute sitter to mid-on – off Lasith Malinga with the target still a considerable distance away.
Then came the comprehensive defeat of the in-form home team, also at Sophia Gardens, in the first semi-final last Wednesday, an eight-wicket whipping that not only underscored the dark horse danger of the men in green but reinforced England’s status as among the ultimate poor losers with their litany of complaints from captain to cook to compliant media about the state of the pitch, as if their presumably inferior opponents weren’t playing on the same surface.
And yesterday it was the turn of Fakhar Zaman to have things go his way. Reprieved on three when he edged Jasprit Bumrah to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni only for television replays to show the fast-medium bowler had overstepped, Zaman blazed 114, laying the foundation for his team’s formidable total of 338 for four and eventually earning the “Man of the Match” award.
Yet the 27-year-old had never even appeared for Pakistan at senior level until the T20 Internationals at the Queen’s Park Oval just over two months ago and only came into the ODI team for the first time in the Champions Trophy match against South Africa that signalled the start of the remarkable transformation. In the Caribbean there was nothing special about his batsmanship in the middle-order and commentators were more concerned with the pronunciation of his first name.
Now though, the decision to insert him at the top of the order following the first-game humiliation at the hands of their arch-rivals, resulting in quickfire scores of 31, 50, 57 and 114, will go down in history as an inspirational decision instead of a desperate “vaps”.
But amid the euphoria and the celebration after the captain, fittingly, took the catch to seal the triumph when (irony of ironies!) Bumrah gloved a lifting delivery from Hasan Ali in the late afternoon London sunshine, one other interesting moment, this time off the field, came to mind. This was two years ago when Pakistan, after initially agreeing to play in a tri-nation series in Zimbabwe that also involved the West Indies, withdrew from the event and the entire competition was cancelled.
At the time they agreed to play, Pakistan were ninth in the ODI rankings, one point behind the eighth-placed West Indies and therefore one point behind qualifying for the Champions Trophy with the cut-off date of September 30, 2015 looming.
Before the Zimbabwe assignment they travelled to Sri Lanka and won a five-match series 3-2, earning enough points against the higher-ranked opponents to edge ahead of the Caribbean team.
Now you know why they changed their minds on the tri-nation series that August, leaving the West Indies without any opportunity to earn the vital rankings points necessary to get back to eighth spot.
Extra reason indeed to feel aggrieved, if any was needed, that Jason Holder’s side were scrapping it out with Afghanistan in an effective second division duel in St Lucia at the same time that the Pakistanis were riding the wave all the way to the title.
Of course Pakistan’s cricketing ability was the key factor at the end of it all. Hasan Ali had shown us the skills at the expense of the home team in Port of Spain that made him the Champions Trophy “Player of the Series.”
Fellow fast-medium bowler Mohammad Amir delivered when it was most needed, prising out Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan to send India veering off course at the start of their run-chase yesterday.
And apart from Zaman’s blistering century, the rest of Pakistan’s top-order batting also delivered in impressive fashion. So was it a case of talent and good fortune coming together at the right time? Looks that way, and in the meantime West Indians keep waiting for destiny to once again be on our side.