Ranked eighth out of eight at the start of the ICC Champions Trophy tournament for which they barely qualified, Pakistan’s prospects of reaching even the semi-finals looked at best a dream. But with this cricket team unpredictability comes as standard.
The team was rejigged to such effect that the commentators were let wondering where Pakistan had been hiding these young players.
India won the toss and elected to bat, deciding their strength lay in the chase. Fakhar Zaman had an early let-off, being caught behind off a Jasprit Bumrah no ball when on 3. He led a charmed life while his opening partner Azhar Ali played in his orthodox style. After 10 overs Pakistan were 56-0.
India tried in vain to strangle Fakhar on his strong legside. Unorthodox in stance, he hardly uses his right elbow. You would think he had a hockey stick in his hands rather than a bat. The pair brought up their 50s within a few deliveries of each other and registered the first ODI 100 partnership against India by any side since January 2016.
This was a pure Oval batting strip, with lateral movement almost non-existent and the batsmen looking quite comfortable. Ravi Jadeja was particularly expensive, with Fakhar taking a liking to his left-arm medium-pace spin and 16 came of one over.
How costly that no ball from Bumrah would prove to be. Fakhar brought up his maiden ODI century in only his 4th game by sweeping Ravi Ashwin for a boundary.
Another fairytale would unfold at the start of the Indian innings. In a country where he was shamed, put behind bars for spot-fixing, Mohammad Amir redeemed himself. Only 25, Amir, in his short career, has seen the kind of ups and downs that few have. At the Oval, the roller coaster surprised him again; it took him to giddy heights that even he had never experienced. In his first five overs, he scalped India’s Top 3 — Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. These were in-form batsmen, who, on their day, are capable of single-handedly winning matches.