Pakistan once again lived up to their reputation as the most unpredictable side in world cricket by annihilating pre-tournament favorites England on the way to securing their maiden final berth in the ICC Champions Trophy. It has been a remarkable turnaround orchestrated by Sarfraz Ahmed and his men after the thrashing at the hands of India in their opening encounter. Pakistan have raised their level of game and notched up a hat-trick of wins over South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the hosts to set up a title clash with India.
Bowlers on song
As always, the Pakistan bowlers have been at the forefront of their dream run. Young pacer Hasan Ali and experienced left-arm fast bowler Junaid Khan picked up crucial wickets which resulted in the opposition being restricted or bowled out for a lowly score. Pakistan have relied on the old adage that the best way to bring down scoring rate is to strike at regular intervals. They have invariably struck between the 30th and 40th overs when teams generally consolidate their position and get ready for the final onslaught in the death overs. Ali has brought a much-needed energy and positivity into the Pakistani camp.
Pakistan players were rightly criticized for the pathetic fielding display against India. Since then they have picked themselves up and dished out a much better show, especially in the semifinal. Fakhar Zaman came up with a brilliant diving catch to dismiss Moeen Ali, while Adil Rashid fell to a brilliant direct hit by substitute Ahmed Shehzad.
Pakistan bowled so well that England's power-hitter Ben Stokes failed to score a single boundary in his 64-ball 34. The famed England batting line-up failed to adapt to a used track at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and could not hit a single six in their innings.
Debutant Rumman Raees, who came in for an injured Mohammed Amir, held his own with figures of 2/44, while young leg-spinner Shadab Kahn scalped a well-set Joe Root for 46. On the big day England were no match for a hugely motivated Pakistan side and failed to break the jinx of not having won a major ICC ODI title.
Zaman, who made his debut against South Africa in the tournament, has been a revelation at the top of the order for Pakistan. The left-hander's aggressive tactics have complimented the more conservative approach of Azhar Ali at the other end.
Skipper Sarfraz and coach Mickey Arthur deserve praise for instilling confidence in the players after the big loss to India. Come Sunday, Pakistan will be a tough side to beat.