Tony Becca | The magicians of Pakistan
Despite a tournament which caters for the top eight teams and which puts the best against the best, the Champions Trophy is considered nothing but an orphaned cousin to the World Cup, the tournament contested by all Test-playing teams.
The Champions Trophy of 2017, however, produced some good, exciting, and enjoyable cricket with the final played last Sunday at The Oval in brilliant sunshine and ending in a surprisingly easy victory for the team ranked last over the team ranked first and starting as the overwhelming favourites at odds of 4-9.
On Sunday, when India won the toss and promptly, and probably nonchalantly, sent Pakistan to bat, not many gave the latter a chance of even competing, especially when opening batsman Fakhar Zaman was "out" very early in Pakistan's innings.
Thanks to the television replay, however, it was a no-ball bowled by Jasprit Bumrahat which Fakhar had flashed at outside the off-stump, he was, therefore, "not out". He went on to score a scintillating 114 runs while sharing an opening stand of 128 with Azhar Ali (59 run out), as Pakistan, considered a weak batting side, hopped to 338 for four and a commanding, if not impregnable, position.
Asked if he thought his team could win with that total after the innings was closed, the inexperienced Fakhar said, "India's batting is strong and Pakistan's bowling is very strong. So, maybe, Inshallah (God's willing)."
Pakistan's total was not considered out of India's reach, mainly because of the presence of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, and Virat Kohli, but left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir cut them down quickly, and with a mixture of in-swingers and out-swingers.
Sharma was the first to go in the first over, leg before wicket at zero; Kohli, dropped at slip, was the second to go, caught at backward point one delivery later playing to leg at six for two; and Dhawan was the third to go, caught by the wicketkeeper at 33 for three in the ninth over.
Later on, the two-way spin of Shadab Khan and the swinging deliveries of Hassan Ali, both youngsters bowling and fielding as if their lives depended on it, completed the demolition.
As usually happens in tournaments, the strong bowling team got the better of the strong batting team, as the best of India were in and out inside 30.3 overs, shot out for 158 despite a spectacular but futile innings of 76 run out by Hardik Pandya.
Pandya batted for 46 minutes, faced 43 deliveries, hit six sixes and four fours, and treated the Pakistani bowlers how they were expected to be treated before Ravindra Jadeja, like Ravichandran Ashwin, playing all day as if he was in a trance, was guilty of carelessly running him out.
By that time, however, the fat lady had started to sing.
In the end, with the generally considered weak and mostly young Pakistan beating the star-studded, confident, and previously powerful India, it was like taking candy from a baby. Pakistan won by 180 runs to register the biggest margin of victory in the final of an ICC ODI tournament.
And it was more than that: after losing to India in round one, Pakistan, the number-one ranked Test team a year ago, beat South Africa on Duckworth-Lewis, beat Sri Lanka with three wickets and 31 deliveries in hand, and beat England in the semi-finals with eight wickets and 77 deliveries in hand.
WEAK BATTING TEAM
In other words, Pakistan, a weak batting team, defeated three of the four top batting teams, which included one of the top-four rated teams, South Africa, plus the two favourites, England and India, in the semi-final and final, on their way to winning the title. Sent to bay, they answered by hitting the highest score in the history of the tournament.
One swallow does not a summer make, but in knocking off the swaggering India, Pakistan not only easily smashed the best one-day team since two-time winners West Indies and five-time champions Australia, but they also wiped away the aura of invincibility which surrounded India in their triumphant march recently.
The Champions Trophy, marred by rain, had started off poorly with unfinished games and uninspired one-side victories.
From about the halfway mark, however, it started to heat up, and by the end of the first round, there were some exciting games, some stunning upsets, and some good, elegant batting.
Two fancied teams, South Africa and Australia, failed to make it to the semi-finals, and rank outsiders, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for the first time, squeezed into the last four.
Batting, which, like fielding, is usually the attraction of one-day tournaments, was again the showpiece of the Champions Trophy 2017 as batsmen like Kohli, Kane Williamson, Dhawan, Sharma, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, and Tamim Iqbal paraded their exceptional skills.
The darlings of the tournament, however, were left-hander Danushka Gunathilaka and young Kusal Mendis of Sri Lanka and Shakib al Hasan and Mahmudullah of Bangladesh.
Gunathilaka and Mendis, shared an impressive 150-run second-wicket partnership against India with Gunathilaka scoring 76 run out and Mendis 89 run out after coming together at 11 for one and chasing 322, and Shakib and Mahmudullah scoring a record-breaking fifth-wicket partnership off 224 runs after coming at 33 for four chasing a target of 266, and Shakib went on to score 114 off 118 deliveries and Mahmadullah, 102 not off 107 deliveries, as they traded shot for shot in a grand display.
The batsman of the tournament, the man who, along with Amir, probably made it possible for Pakistan, was Fakhar Zaman. He was truly magnificent in his fearless hitting.
The 2017 Champions Trophy will be long remembered as Pakistan's moment of glory, not only because they won the trophy, not only because they defied the odds to beat the overwhelming favourites, but because, in doing so, they called not only on their talent, their training, and their practice, but also on their pride, their commitment, and the love for their country.