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Pakistan entered the Champions Trophy tournament ranked 8th in the world. They had rightfully earned that position after a woeful performance in limited overs since the 2015 World Cup. Low in confidence in their opening fixture on June 4th, Pakistan was outplayed by a dominant Indian side as we witnessed a mammoth loss of 124 runs. It was expected, but the margin by which we lost reaffirmed Pakistan cricket’s dire state, and was perhaps, a wake-up call for the players and the team management.
The only positive from the India defeat was the elimination of Wahab Riaz and Ahmed Shehzad from subsequent matches. Though no one expected a couple of changes to turn things around for Pakistan, miraculously enough, it instilled in them an energy that ultimately took them all the way. The inclusion of suave opening batsman, Fakhar Zaman, and leg -spinner, Shadab Khan, lifted the team spirit in the next game against South Africa.
Pakistan bowled their heart out, but chasing any half-decent total is not our strong suit. Although Pakistan was comfortably placed when the rain interrupted play, we all knew that we were one ball away from the infamous collapse. The game was decided per the D/L/S method, and Pakistan won by a narrow margin, upsetting the no.1 team in the world.
The mercurial Sri Lankan team was next up. The bowling had grown in confidence since the South Africa game, but this time the batting collapse came back to haunt us. Had it not been for the fantastic 74-run stand between Sarfraz and Amir and the missed opportunities that the Sri Lankans slipped, our team would have been on the next flight out of Heathrow. Somehow, Pakistan toiled their way to victory, though it wasn’t a smooth sailing.
This result confirmed Pakistan’s semi-final against the tournament favorites, and the only undefeated side thus far, England. England had been ruthless and comprehensively defeated every opposition team before the semi-final, including the world champions Australia. Pakistan, against all odds, produced the performance that we had all waited so long for.
Pakistan bowling showed up and dismissed the English team for just 211. And the batting easily chased it down with 8 wickets and 77 balls to spare. This performance denied logic, predictions, and expectations. The entire nation could dream of glory. We were one step away from becoming champions. London was calling.
Pakistan arrived at the Oval on Sunday to take on India, one more time. Given our poor record against India over the last few years, few expected us to bring down the strongest batting line up in the world. It had been over three years that Shahid Afridi hit two consecutive sixes off Ravichandran Ashwin to seal a memorable victory in the Asia Cup against India. However, the string of victories in the Champions Trophy had brought the nation together to believe that India could be trounced.
Fortunately, Pakistan’s best was yet to come in the tournament. They had turned it around against top sides coming into the final, so we had every reason to believe that they could do it against India too. I woke up in Washington DC at 5 am to witness this clash. Donning my green jersey, tears in eyes, I rooted for Pakistan to bring the trophy home. 7 hours later, the men in green did it. Pakistan crushed India by 180 runs, the largest win in the history of ICC finals, to become champions of the world.
Every night for the last two weeks, I read the analysis and predictions of cricket experts. Almost everyone was surprised by each subsequent Pakistan victory. They all appreciated the performance but ruled out Pakistan’s chances to progress further in the tournament. Every night, I went to bed with a smirk, knowing that this young Pakistan team had a fire, a passion, a comeback that only the gut feeling of a Pakistani fan can predict. And boy, much to the delight of the nation, I was proved right.