Millennium Post

Remarkable turnaround

Remarkable turnaround
In the biggest game of cricket played between arch-rivals India and Pakistan since the 2007 World T20 tournament, only one side came out on top. On Sunday, it was the men in green, who lifted the ICC Champions Trophy aloft, thrashing the overwhelming favourites India by 180 runs. It's impossible to articulate the significance of Pakistan's win without delving into the events that have afflicted its cricket since the World T20 championship in 2007. Since that evening in Johannesburg, both cricket-mad nations have gone on very different journeys.

In 2007, under the stewardship of MS Dhoni, who was thrust into the job to lead a group of young and exciting talent, India shook off the horrors of the 2007 World Cup in West Indies and won the tournament. Since then, Indian cricket has gone from strength to strength, becoming the No 1 side in all formats, and winning the World Cup in 2011 and Champions Trophy in 2013. Dhoni aside, this decade saw the emergence of other superstar performers, most notably the current Indian captain Virat Kohli.
The World T20 Championship kick-started an era of stupendous growth across all formats of the game, not to mention the rise of the Indian Premier League, which has become a massive money making machine and talent spotting forum for Indian cricket. For Pakistan, unfortunately, that defeat in 2007 began a period of turbulence.

Subsequent events pushed its cricket onto a downward spiral, from which it has not yet fully recovered. There was the horrific terror attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009, which marked the end of international cricket in Pakistan. There were attempts to bring it back, most notably through the creation of the Pakistan Super League. But it does not hold a candle to the IPL. In the following year, Pakistani cricket was embroiled in the spot-fixing scandal, while its team was on tour in England. Pakistan lost their captain and two of their premier fast bowlers to the scandal. One of them, Mohammad Amir, who was just 17 at the time, found his way back into international cricket only after serving a five-year ban from all forms of the game. There were even suggestions that the ICC should suspend Pakistan from the international game, but nothing of that sort happen.

Although Pakistan, under the stewardship of Misbah-ul-Haq, did find its feet in Test cricket, it struggled in other formats of the game. For the Champions Trophy this year, Pakistan was the lowest ranked side, and there were real fears that they would struggle to qualify for the 2019 World Cup automatically. No one gave this young team, led by the wily Sarfaraz Ahmed, a prayer. Pundits had harboured serious doubts about their ability to even qualify beyond the group stages, especially after suffering a 124-run loss to India in the first game. A lot was said about the "unpredictability" of this side, which was basically a word pundits used rather patronisingly to describe the team.

From that opening game defeat, however, things began to change. They defeated the much fancied South African side and edged passed Sri Lanka to make into the semi-finals, where they were slated to face another tournament favourite—England. Despite two wins on the bounce, no one gave them a chance, because they did not show any real form coming into the semi-final. And then everything changed. Backed by solid performances from their young brigade of fast bowlers, led by the man of the tournament Hassan Khan, and fearless batting from their top order, they eviscerated England by eight wickets. In the final, Team India, led by Kohli, were odds-on favourites. During the pre-game coverage, after Pakistan were put into bat, pundits spoke of what first innings total would suffice to make it an even contest. There was talk that they may score 275 and that total should be enough for an even contest. Pakistan, however, flipped the switch and played a remarkable game. The top order rode their luck, but they came into their own as the innings progressed and they finished up with 338/4 in 50 overs.

New to the international game, Fakhar Zaman made a brilliant 114 that was a delight to behold. The much-fancied Indian batting line-up fell apart in the face of a fast bowling exhibition by a certain Mohammad Amir. Backed up by a squad of promising bowling talent, Pakistan bowled India out for a paltry 158. Besides the scenes of celebration among Pakistani fans, it was Kohli's remarks following the match that won a lot of hearts.

"I want to congratulate Pakistan. They had an amazing tournament, the way they turned things around, speak volumes for the talent they have. They proved it again, they can upset anyone on their day, disappointing for us but I have a smile on my face because we played well to reach the final," Kohli said. Gracious in defeat, and appreciation of the opponent—signs of real sportsmanship. A first major ODI trophy in 25 years for Pakistan should become the catalyst they need to reemerge from the shadows.
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