The city of London provided the setting for two contrasting India-Pakistan tales on Sunday. While the Indian hockey team trounced their forlorn arch-rivals in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, a mere ten miles away at The Oval, the more renowned Men in Blue were humbled in the Champions Trophy 2017 final by a Pakistan team possessed by the spirit of 1992.
It was a riveting culmination to ICC’s secondary tournament, which in its reincarnation had some remarkable upsets, incredible innings and splendid spells despite the eternally undisciplined English weather.
The batsmen indulged themselves on bland English pitches breaking various records en route. Teams continued to chase their targets with such ease and relative comfort that one wonders if the historic Wile E Coyote vs Roadrunner, Tom vs Jerry and Sylvester vs Tweety contests might have seen more unsavoury outcomes in contemporary cricketing climate.
Let’s take a look at who hit the ball sweetest, deftest and furthest in the five best innings from ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
Ben Stokes vs Australia: 102 not out (109 balls, 13 fours, 2 sixes)
Australia were on course for a massive total as Aaron Finch and Steve Smith were setting up a respectable platform for their big and lesser shows in the middle and lower order to exploit.
But Ben Stoke had different ideas as a false shot off his bowling dismissed Finch. Soon, Smith and the daunting big-hitters fell like a pack of cards but a young left-hander with certainly a better 'Head' on his shoulders saw Australia to a defendable target of 277.
When Mitchell Starc trapped struggling Jason Roy lbw the second ball of England’s innings and Josh Hazlewood (aka poor man’s Glenn McGrath) had Alex Hales and Joe Root caught behind, the hosts were left reeling at 35 for 3 before a rain interruption. And as the match resumed, there was a manifest shift in momentum as Stokes, along with skipper Eoin Morgan, launched a tyrannising counter-attack and turned the tables on Australia.
Stokes took a special liking to the pace of Pat Cummins, clobbering the ball to all parts of Edgbaston. One particularly delectable shot saw Stokes condescendingly flick the Australian for a boundary through mid-wicket. It even caught the eye of Virat Kohli, arguably modern one-day cricket’s best batsman, who hailed the "ridiculous" stroke as "one of the best shots" he had seen in a while.
Kusal Mendis vs India: 89 (93 balls, 11 fours, 1 six)
An understated, short-handed Sri Lankan team stunned India in the group stage by registering the highest successful run chase in Champions Trophy history.
India’s total of 321 was built around an excellent 125 from Shikhar Shawan and a late boost from MS Dhoni and Kedhar Jadhav. But it turned out to be inadequate as the steadfast, assertive pair of Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis made crucial half-centuries to help Sri Lanka successfully hunt down the target.
Mendis showed why he’s one of Sri Lanka’s most treasured young batsmen displaying his wristy power and exemplary footwork, especially against Jadeja’s left-arm missiles on a flat Oval pitch.
After their dismissals, at first, it brought back memories of that agonising 3-run defeat at Rajkot in 2009 when Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara helped the Lankans almost chase down India’s target of 415. However, handy knocks from Kusal Perera and skipper Angelo Mathews made sure there was no heartbreak this time around as they chased down the target with seven wickets and eight balls to spare.
Rohit Sharma vs Bangladesh: 123 not out (129 balls, 15 fours, 1 six)
The century in the semi-final against Bangladesh was Rohit Sharma at his most Mark Waugh-esque without the bizarre dismissal.
After Bangladesh batted first and put up a sizeable target of 264, Rohit shared a lively partnership with tournament Golden Bat winner and famed moustache afficianado, Shikhar Dhawan. He then joined his captain Kohli in an unbeaten 178-run partnership to secure India’s place in the final.
Rohit had an answer to whatever the Bangladesh bowling attack threw at him. The Tigers tried eight bowling options, except the openers and wicketkeeper, to contain him but he pulled, cut and drove authoritatively on what was a batting paradise.
Shakib Al Hasan vs New Zealand: 114 (115 balls, 11 fours, 1 six) and Mahmudullah vs New Zealand: 102 (107 balls, 8 fours, 2 sixes)
After seamers Tim Southee and Adam Milne dismissed the Bangladesh top order out cheaply in their pursuit of New Zealand’s target of 266, it looked like the Tigers again impressed but couldn’t make it count in an ICC tournament.
Then, World No 1 all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and ICC tournament maven Mahmudullah dropped anchor and scripted an astonishing turnaround to stun the Black Caps.
During the partnership, it seemed like duo became one, completely in sync with each other, transcending ordinary solipsistic tendencies, to achieve a greater common goal with relentless concentration, excellent judgement and unmatched diligence.
They shared a partnership of 224 which was Bangladesh's highest for any wicket in one-day cricket. It was a completely professional innings alternating between singles and doubles, and the occasional boundaries. Though Shakib was eventually bowled by Trent Boult, Mahmudullah, unbeaten on 102, guided the Tigers to victory with nearly three overs to spare.
Fakhar Zaman vs India: 114 (106 balls, 12 fours, 3 sixes)
What is it with left handed openers from Pakistan against India? Saeed Anwar, Salman Butt, even Nasir Jamshed, now Fakhar Zaman — Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) 18 June 2017
Cricket is a game of inches. It is one of cricket’s oldest adages, referring to the finest of margins between success and failure in the sport. No one knew or understood this better than Jasprit Bumrah and Fakhar Zaman.
Zaman was afforded an early reprieve after a leaden-footed poke off Bumrah’s bowling led to an outside edge that was easily taken by keeper Dhoni but the Indian pacer had overstepped. Zaman made sure he took complete advantage of his lifeline and blazed his way to a punishing century with improvised, unorthodox strokes.
His high-risk, high-reward game particularly took its toll on the world’s top ranked Test bowlers, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin and even Kohli attested to how difficult it is stop players like Zaman.
His century ably supported by half-centuries from Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez at either end of the innings helped Pakistan pile a massive total of 338. India, who generally are adept at chasing, failed to deliver the goods succumbing to the pressure of a tournament final while facing Pakistan’s deadly pace trio of Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali.
Updated Date: Jun 21, 2017 11:13:18 IST