Azhar, Babar and Hafeez too come to the party to leave profligate India facing stiff run-chase in bid to defend title.
The Pakistan that India is playing in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final is not the Pakistan it defeated easily in the group game in Birmingham. One massive reason for that is the presence of a swashbuckling opener in Fakhar Zaman.
India found out the difference on Sunday at The Oval as Fakhar smashed 114 off 106 balls to set up Pakistan’s imposing 338 for 4 in 50 overs.
Fakhar came into the big match with scores of 31, 50 and 57 in his only three One-Day Internationals and extended his form, becoming the first Pakistan batsman to score a ton in a final of an ICC event. It could so easily have been his first failure when he was caught behind on three, but Jasprit Bumrah had overstepped.
Fakhar made use of the good fortune and went on to add 128 for the opening wicket with Azhar Ali (59). Babar Azam (46) and Mohammad Hafeez (57* off 37) capitalised on the platform with crucial knocks.
Importantly, Pakistan was clinical and did the job in pairs. Every time a wicket fell, the set batsman took charge and never let India back in.
On the other hand, India looked surprisingly switched off. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja conceded 137 runs from a combined 18 overs, Bumrah was so ordinary he didn’t even complete his quota.
India bowled 13 wides and three no-balls, missed run-out opportunities and was generally sloppy.
In fact, the first phase of the innings was a contest of which team was sloppier. Quite uncharacteristically, India won that battle, which meant Pakistan edged ahead in the actual game.
There were plenty of edges that evaded the stumps and fielders, and some frantic singles that provided run-out opportunities. India, though, just couldn’t hit the stumps.
The biggest miss though came when Bumrah had Fakhar caught behind in the fourth over, only for the wicket to be denied by a no-ball. That summed up Bumrah’s and India’s performance; the pacer bowled with no control, spraying wides and half-volleys in a first spell of 3-0-24-0.
Virat Kohli turned to Ashwin’s off-spin as early as the eighth over but that didn’t help either, as Azhar stepped out to smash him over long-off. Azhar’s fine touch made up for Fakhar’s uncharacteristic slow struggle as Pakistan raced to 56 without loss in the first ten.
It could have been more if not for Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s tidy first spell of 5-2-10-0.
But it wasn’t even like Pakistan’s batsmen were in complete control. Fakhar in particular was all nerves and scored only 14 off his first 27 balls. Once that phase was over though, he played some terrific shots, especially against Ashwin who was clubbed through the on-side with disdain.
With Azhar going steady, Pakistan’s second consecutive century opening stand was crossed in 18 overs. Both openers went past their half-century a couple of overs later, Fakhar getting there in the most apt manner with Yuvraj Singh misfielding to allow a boundary.
By then, Pakistan had coasted to 114 in 20 overs with India looking clueless and wrecked. It had already bowled as many as seven wides, got a wicket off a no-ball and missed at least three run-out chances.
India finally took one opportunity when Azhar and Fakhar found themselves at the same end, leaving the former stranded. The breakthrough was a result of Fakhar ball-watching, but the youngster showed tremendous maturity in moving on.
Fakhar realised it was crucial not to give India a sniff and took a majority of the strike, allowing Babar to settle. He kept the scoreboard moving too, smashing Ashwin and Jadeja for two sixes and three fours in a two-over span.
Fakhar’s footwork messed with the spinners’ lengths. The left-hand batsman charged down the track at the slightest opportunity and was also powerful off the back foot, making use of the vacant spaces on the off-side.
Fakhar went past his century sweeping Ashwin to the fence but fell soon after when he carved Hardik Pandya to point, where Jadeja took an excellent catch running back. But yet again, the set batsman ensured Pakistan wouldn’t lose momentum.
Babar took control, dominating a 47-run stand for the third wicket before Bhuvneshwar ended it with the wicket of Shoaib Malik in the 40th over. The frontline bowlers’ struggle forced Kohli to turn to Kedhar Jadhav. It resulted in the wicket of Babar but an extra over turned costly as Hafeez and Imad Wasim got going.
Hafeez and Wasim were surprisingly promoted above Sarfraz Ahmed but did their job with an unbeaten 71-run partnership off 47 balls as Pakistan added 91 in the last 10.