London: If the 2017 Champions Trophy were to have had another two games, Pakistan might be scoring 750 and bowling teams out for negative 12 by the end of it.
Even for a side that is routinely unpredictable, even for a team with a long history of starting slowly then making a white-hot charge through a tournament, what Pakistan have pulled off at the 2017 Champions Trophy is some diamond-studded, galactic-scale nonsense.
They have not just defied logic, they have spat in logic’s face, questioned the moral inclinations of its parents, kicked it in the shins, put it in a headlock, strangled it unconscious, then shoved it into the mud and set its trousers on fire.
Remember how, before the match (how long ago that now seems), the cricket world thought India’s batsmen would put the match beyond Pakistan if they scored 300? Ha! What actually happened was that newbie opener Fakhar Zaman, playing his fourth international innings, hit 114 from 106 balls in one of the highest-pressure cricket matches of the decade, before a bristling middle order grew the total to 338 for 4, with hitherto unsuspected power and skill.
Remember how the cricket world thought the key period in the contest would be the middle overs in India’s innings. Idiots! In actual fact, Mohammad Amir would decapitate the India innings in a scintillating opening burst that brought him the scalps of each of the top three, and then by the middle of the 14th over, India would be 54 for 5, the trophy basically handed over.
Thank the cricket gods that Azhar Ali dropped Virat Kohli at slip in the third over, before Kohli was caught the very next ball. Thank heavens that Pakistan’s opening stand of 128 was brought to an end by a running mix-up, whereby both batsmen wound up on the same side of the pitch. Without such moments of incompetence in what was otherwise a spectacular allround performance, there is no chance we could plausibly accept that this is the same side that lost their opening match to India by 124 runs.
The winning margin here was 180 runs, just for the record. But it may as well have been 180 million, so dominant were Pakistan in this match.
Earlier in first innings, Fakhar Zaman’s maiden one-day international hundred was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s 338 for four as they set title-holders and arch-rivals India a stiff chase to win the Champions Trophy final at The Oval on Sunday.
Caught off a no-ball on three, left-handed opener Fakhar went on to make an impressive 114.
He shared a first-wicket stand of 128 with Azhar Ali (59) and then put on 72 with Babar Azam (46) for the second.
India paceman Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with an economical one for 44 in 10 overs, helped atone for some wayward bowling by his team-mates in an innings featuring 13 wides and three no-balls — nearly three extra overs.
But Pakistan veteran Mohammad Hafeez’s quickfire 57 not out, including three sixes, took Pakistan well beyond 300.
Together with fellow all-rounder Imad Wasim (25 not out), he shared an unbroken stand of 71 for the fifth wicket.
India’s star off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin had a return to forget, his 10 wicketless overs costing 70 runs.
India, for all the strength of a top-order featuring skipper Virat Kohli, the world’s top-ranked ODI batsman, had much to do against one of the best bowling attacks in this eight-team tournament if they were to retain their title.
It was all a far cry from the Asian giants’ opening group match at Edgbaston on June 4 where Pakistan slumped to 164 all out in a thumping 124-run defeat by India.
Kohli opted to field first Sunday after winning the toss on a typically good pitch at a sun-drenched Oval.
India should have had a wicket when Fakhar was caught behind off Jasprit Bumrah on three.
But the umpires checked for a no-ball and replays showed Bumrah had over-stepped.
Denied the calming influence of an early wicket, India’s bowlers looked nervous.
Bumrah’s first three overs cost 24 runs, including four wides.
Azhar, often criticised for slow-scoring, completed a 61-ball fifty with a single off Ravindra Jadeja and later in the same over Fakhar followed him to the landmark in 60 balls when he cut the left-arm spinner for four through Yuvraj Singh at point.
But the run-out the pair had threatened arrived when Fakhar’s failure to respond to Azhar’s call saw the former ODI captain fall by a distance despite an ungainly throw by Bumrah to wicket-keeper MS Dhoni.
Fakhar, perhaps annoyed at role in the run out, drove left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja for six and cut him for four off successive balls.
In just his fourth match at this level the 27-year-old Fakhar — who had already posted two ODI fifties — completed a 92-ball hundred including two sixes when he swept Ashwin for his 12th four.
He was eventually out when he sliced medium-pacer Hardik Pandya and Jadeja, running back from point, held a well-judged catch.
But at 200 for two, Pakistan were well-placed for a big score, with Hafeez bringing up the 300 when he pulled the generally admirable Kumar for six.