It's time to savour a brilliant tournament, and a surprising but worthy and popular champion, writes former Bangladesh captain
The ICC Champions Trophy 2017 might not have got the final it deserved, but what a final it still turned out to be! It once again reiterated that games of cricket are not played on paper, that rankings and reputations don’t count for much. At the end of it all, it’s the team that plays better cricket on the day that walks away with the riches, and so it was proved as Pakistan outplayed India in exhilarating fashion.
There is something about watching Pakistan at its best that appeals to every cricket fan, no matter which team he is supporting. The excitement and thrill it brings with it is unparalleled. It throws up exciting young talent on the most unlikely of stages, the big occasion quickly makes men out of boys.
This time around, at The Oval, it was the turn of Fakhar Zaman to make people sit up and take notice. He had done some excellent things in the tournament already, but when you make your maiden One-Day International hundred in the final of a big tournament, and that too against your traditional rivals, there is very little that can beat that feeling. And especially when that effort comes in a winning cause.
Pakistan’s victory in the final is great for world cricket, and I say that with no disrespect to India. Virat Kohli’s team had played brilliantly well in its march to the title round, and deserved to be installed the favourite. However, for the sake of the sport, it is important that more and more teams throw their hat into the competitive ring. There is nothing to gain from the sport being dominated by two or three teams. When there is a touch of predictability about the result, matches can get a little boring and tedious. That’s why it is essential that new winners emerge, that the gap between the team gets narrower, and we reach a stage where any of the top eight teams is capable of beating the others on a fairly consistent basis.
That’s one of the big gains from this ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Pakistan winning the tournament, and Bangladesh turning the form-book upside down by making it to the semi-final, were excellent for cricket. Before the tournament started, the universal consensus was that South Africa, Australia, England and India would make it to the knockouts. There was sound logic to that theory, given the weight of history and the recent form of these sides. However, and especially in ODI cricket, reputation and pedigree can quickly be relegated to the background, and that’s what makes our glorious game so fascinating.
In so many ways, this was the best of all the Champions Trophy tournaments so far. The weather was a little inclement to start with, but as the tournament progressed, so did the rain stay away. The calculators were sent back to cold storage, and cricket matches were decided solely on the basis of the skills of the players out in the middle. The pitches for the tournament were all very good for batting, and it allowed batsmen of various hues to make their statements. There were some breathtaking batting displays, but through it all, skilled bowlers such as Hasan Ali and Bhuvneshwar Kumar held their own, showing that even if the odds are stacked against you, your nous and intelligence can make a telling impact.
Cricket has undergone various rule-changes in order to spice up the action. There have been modifications to the Power Plays, to the number of bouncers allowed per over, you name it. But while all this is important, nothing provides greater spice than the quality of cricket, the closeness of battle, the ups and downs that stem from teams fighting it out on an equal footing. At the end of the day, you want to witness a contest, not a one-sided passage of play with one team steamrolling the other. That’s exactly what this tournament provided – plenty of thrills and spills, and teams bouncing back from no-hopers to making a strong case for top honours.
I am sure the spectators and television audiences had as much fun watching the Davids felling the Goliaths as I did. Ultimately, it is the fans that drive the game almost as much as the players, and if they go away happy at the end of seven hours of cricket, it means the game’s future is safe.
A tournament of this competitive nature, with the top eight teams going toe to toe and no easy games to speak of, can never be a dress rehearsal. Saying that, all the sides would have gleaned useful information that will stand them in good stead when the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 gets going in two years’ time. Better off for this experience, teams will come armed with newer strategies and game plans, which should make for another exciting competition. For now, though, it is time to savour a brilliant tournament, and a surprising but worthy and popular champion.