The ICC Champions Trophy shall come to a grand closure on Sunday when arch-rivals India and Pakistan clash in the ‘high voltage’ title clash for the coveted trophy.
Defending champions India would set sights on winning the Champions Trophy crown for a record third time while Pakistan would aim to lift their maiden title.
While all cricket pundits had predicted India to be one of the strong title contenders for the tournament, few had given Pakistan a chance of even reaching the knockouts.
Pakistan had at best been labeled as ‘Underdogs’ for the finals. Pakistan who was drawn in Group B with India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka were considered the weaker of the teams along with the Lankans.
However, Pakistan turned around a lackluster performance against India in the opener to stage a resounding comeback by stunning South Africa and Sri Lanka in the group encounter and make it to the semis.
Pakistan continued their fairytale run by upsetting hosts England to secure their maiden final berth in the tourney.
Here is a look at how a resurgent Pakistan side made it to the grand finale of the Champions Trophy
Pakistan handed crushing 124-run defeat by India
Pakistan began their campaign on the worst possible start with a crushing 124 run defeat to India in their opener on June 4 at Edgbaston, Birmingham. Captain Kohli and his brigade outplayed the Pakis in all facets of the game.
They were some notable performances by seasoned campaigner Azhar Ali who struck a fifty and young leg spinner Shadab Khan who bowled well on a batting friendly track.
Pakistan upset formidable South Africa
With a formidable South Africa next in line, most experts at that stage thought that Pakistan’s campaign was all but over. But most of us forgot that Pakistan are known to produce their best cricket when they have their backs to the wall.
The Pakis faced Proteas who came into the match high on confidence after trouncing Sri Lanka. Pakistan surprised the power packed South African batting order by pegging them back with regular strikes. Hasan Ali spearheaded the bowling efforts with three important wickets.
With only a paltry 218 to chase, Pakistan began cautiously but had their share of problems with Proteas seamers scalping three top order wickets.
However, the experienced pair of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik took them across the line before the rain came in to decide the game on Duck-Worth Lewis in favour of Pakistan.
Pakistan edge past Sri Lanka
With Pakistan beating South Africa and India stunned by a spirited Lankan side, the semi-final berths were all up for the grabs. Pakistan saw a big window of opportunity for a last four berth.
The game against Sri Lanka was a sea-saw battle which swung like a clock pendulum. The Pakistan pace attack of Mohammad Aamir and Junaid Khan came to the fore and dented the Sri-Lankan middle order by scalping wickets in quick succession. Pakistan given a steady start by openers Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali looked well poised to chase down the target.
However, the Lankans ran through their middle order to leave them stuttering at one stage. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed showcased his calm and composure and resurrected a match saving partnership with tail-ender Mohammad Aamir to bail his side out of trouble and seal a memorable victory.
Pakistan stun England in the semis to sail into maiden final
Pakistan fans were delighted to see their team get into the semi-finals. Next up were hosts England who looked to be the side to beat after topping Group A with three splendid wins over old foes Australia, Bangladesh and New Zealand.
Once again Pakistan went in as underdogs in their match against England. Pakistan’s bowling attack came to the party by making regular inroads into the English batting line-up.
The end result was England being bowled out for 211. Pakistan began their chase in thundering fashion with Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali who laid down a strong platform. Babbar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez then cantered Pakistan home to an impressive 8 wicket win and secure their maiden berth in the title clash against arch-rivals India.
Pakistan’s run to the final has been the success story of the tournament. Pakistan have once again proved that they are the maverick band of boys in international cricket. Brilliant on one day and a mere shadow of themselves on the very next, Pakistan continue to spring up surprises for most of the top sides in international cricket.
Will the ‘Green Brigade’ go the distance against India and lay hands on their first Champions Trophy. Well, only time will tell how Sarfaraz and his brigade fare against Kohli’s ‘Men in Blue’ at the Oval on Sunday.