India vs Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed and Co let go of fears to come of age in Champions Trophy victory

Fakhar Zaman's on 56 off 68.

Block, nudge, one, two. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin are helping India arrest Pakistan's momentum.

Jadeja darts one in to start the 26th over and Zaman decides to dance down and hit over long on for six. Jadeja drags it short, Zaman makes room and hits it square on the off side for four. He dances down again on the last ball of this over, this time playing it over cover for four. A total of 16 runs from the over.

Pakistan's Fakhar Zaman. AFP

Pakistan's Fakhar Zaman. AFP

Pakistan's score reads 150/1 in 26.

The guilt is weighing on Zaman’s mind. It was an easy single, but he wasn’t listening to his partner’s call. and Azhar Ali is now back in the pavilion. But then Zaman realizes he can control this. And so he does. Pakistan manage to get 33 runs in two overs. They aren’t letting India get away with it, not today.

***

Mohammad Amir is in his element. He picked up Sharma in the first over and he is now running in to bowl at Kohli. The ball pitches on leg stump, angles away from the Indian captain and squares him up before taking an outside edge. “Catch it!” goes Amir. It’s safe and the ball goes between point and cover.

Shadab Khan, aged 18, runs after the ball. Running just behind him is Mohammad Hafeez, who, at 36, is twice Shadab’s age. Kohli collects two. Normal service resumes. They smile on their way back. Pakistan are in it. You can feel it.

The next ball is fuller, around the middle stump line and Kohli hits it back at Amir who pretends to throw the ball back at the batsman. The crowd likes this. Kohli laughs it off.

“A wicket here from Pakistan could be game on,” says former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly sitting in the commentary box.

Amir runs in again and pulls back his length. The ball pitches on the middle stump and continues to move away from Kohli.

“Caaaaaaaatch!” shouts Amir, only to see Azhar make a mess of it in the first slip. Amir looks like he is going to kill someone. Azhar wears a dejected look. Their head coach Mickey Arthur has his hands on his head. Did he just drop the cup? It is Kohli we are talking about.

Amir runs in again. He pitches it slightly full around the same line as the previous ball. Kohli, who so often just takes a step across to whip it through midwicket, tries his signature shot. The angle is too much to handle and the ball takes a leading edge. Young Shadab latches on to it at point. Amir runs, Sarfraz catches up with him and they embrace each other. They know it.

The score reads 6 for 2. Game on.

“You’ve got to love this team,” quips Nasser Hussain in the commentators' box.

Two deliveries. Those two deliveries perhaps encapsulated what the Pakistani brand of cricket is all about. World-class bowling let down by terrible fielding in one delivery, and an 18-year-old standing up to take a catch at point in the very next. If there was an actual emotional rollercoaster, this is exactly how it must feel like.

***

It’s the ninth over and Shikhar Dhawan is beginning to free himself up a little.

Amir runs in over the wicket and bowls a short one in to Dhawan’s body. He defends it with ease. The next ball is slightly wider, and Dhawan has enough room to push it through the off side. Amir begins to walk back, eyes down. He is thinking to himself: "One Mississippi, two Mississippi" and he turns around. He wants a deep square leg. Fine leg comes in. Dhawan’s probably thinking of more short-pitched bowling.

The next ball is pitched up on the off stump line. Dhawan defends it. Another similar delivery and Dhawan pushes it straight past the bowler for his first run from this over.

What’s Amir doing here? Where is that short delivery in Dhawan’s rib cage that brings deep square leg into play?

Yuvraj is on strike for the next delivery, and Amir bowls it way outside the off stump. Yuvraj guides it to third man for a single. Amir’s not happy with his effort and he shouts out loud. He starts walking back, eyes down again. The pace sensation pauses for a bit, and turns around to look at the deep square leg fielder.

Surely a short delivery now? No.

He pitches it up again, in the corridor of uncertainty and forces Dhawan to play. Dhawan, half expecting a short pitch ball by now, pokes his bat at it. The ball holds its line after pitching. Dhawan edges it.

The scorecard now reads 33/3.

Pakistan are also playing mind games now. Oh boy, did you not miss this Pakistan against India? Fast bowlers steaming in, deadly stares, some expletives and working on a plan to pick wickets? Pakistan’s time machine is well and truly set in the 1990s. Wasim Akram knows this too. “You little beauty @TheAmirOfficial reminded me of my days,” he tweets.

***

It’s the 13th over and Pakistan are bowling their leg-spin sensation Shadab Khan. They even have a slip and a silly mid-on for MS Dhoni. One more wicket and this is practically Pakistan’s game.

Yuvraj takes strike on the fifth ball and he has no clue, none whatsoever, about Shadab’s googly. He tries to drive and misses it completely. Dot ball. Shadab is in play.

The next ball is pitched on middle and off. Yuvraj plays for the wrong one but adjusts late to a delivery that is coming back in. He defends it but Sarfraz and Shadab start appealing vociferously. Shadab turns to his captain and immediately says: “Pad laga hai pehle, pad laga pehle! (It hit the pad first, it hit the pad first!)”.

Sarfraz goes for the review. Gone!

India now collapse to 54/4. Game over!

That googly to Yuvraj, the follow up delivery and the confidence to insist for a close review; that’s the work of someone who believes in his ability. Remember, he is only 18-years-old and this is the final of an ICC event against India. Ian Bishop called him "Shadab Superstar Khan" for a reason.

***

I am still letting it sink in because I am not sure how to react to this one. For someone who has grown up to a number of surprises from this team, this is still unfamiliar territory.

Where does this win rank for Pakistan? Is it as big as 1992? May be it’s bigger.

I was a year old back then so I have only heard about the scenes in 1992, but Pakistan hadn’t hit rock bottom and, win or no win, the team was not a joke on the field. It was starting to become one now. Sure, they ended up winning the cup with a touch of destiny in 1992, but were they the pariahs of international cricket? Not really. Here, they were rank outsiders.

Winning the World T20 in 2009 was great, especially in the backdrop of the tragic attack on the Sri Lankan team. Pakistan wanted positive headlines and that win was a great way of normalising Pakistan cricket. It expedited the healing process for Pakistan cricket and the nation.

But this one is different. It came three days before the eighth anniversary of the 2009 victory. I understand Pakistan are mercurial, but this unpredictability is a little too much even for them, isn't it?

For one, Pakistan are ranked eighth. They barely qualified for this tournament and they looked so out of sorts in the first game that it started looking comical. Then someone in the Pakistan camp did something. The players say it was a team meeting after the loss against India that made them let go of their fears. Is this how fairytales are written?

My friends often tell me skydiving is the best experience they have ever had. You are standing on the edge of the plane and you are staring at death. Then someone pushes you out. In a few seconds, you go from extreme fear to extreme liberation. As you cross that barrier of fear, you realise you are in a good space.

Quite often, that one thing you can’t do is often the easiest thing on your task list. You realise how easy it was only after you do it.

May be that is what happened with Pakistan. When India thrashed them on 4 June, they decided to step off that plane and let go of their fears. What’s the worst that could happen? The lowest ranked side would crash out?

But here is the thing. This is not a fluke. It can count as a fluke if it happens once. They did it four times, in a row.

***

Sarfraz takes the final catch and he runs that extra bit of distance to embrace Shoaib Malik, the team’s senior most player. Shadab and Babar follow. They know it. They believe it. The world believes it now. This is a team coming of age.

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Published Date: Jun 20, 2017 07:52 am | Updated Date: Jun 20, 2017 07:52 am

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