Graeme Smith column: Fakhar Zaman's outstanding and mature display of batting will please coach Mickey Arthur
The game had everything, and proved to be a truly fitting end to a tournament in which the lowest ranked side has emerged as deserved winners. Well played, Pakistan!
I doubt I’m the only spectator that Pakistan surprised on Sunday by beating India, but it was the fashion of the win that surprised me most. Throughout the tournament, Pakistan’s strength has been its bowling unit, spearheaded by Hassan Ali who today walked away with the Golden Ball, having taken 13 wickets.
In my previous column, I pointed to the importance of Pakistan bowling well and doing all they could to prevent India getting a score above 280, something I felt might just have been beyond them. However, the way they approached the final today was superb. The batting was completely uninhibited by the occasion, and for Fakhar Zaman to come up with a mature display like that in just his fourth international innings is outstanding.
Pakistan’s innings was characterised by intent, and a momentum which they maintained throughout.
Azhar Mahmood, the Pakistan bowling coach said after the game, ‘bowlers win you tournaments’. That’s true to a degree, but it’ll be the batting performance that will please Mickey Arthur most following their crushing win on Sunday.
That’s been the least consistent aspect of the Pakistan performances, even at this tournament as it showed in the group stage fixtures against India and Sri Lanka. In the final, it found a way to turn it on as a team, and ensure that any scars from that game didn’t cloud their decision making on the field. The hundred from Zaman was so full of class, and proved to be the anchor to the Pakistan innings that as a team they have been short of all too often.
The opening stand inevitably went a long way towards Pakistan securing such a daunting total, and it just shows the importance of someone in the top order cashing in, allowing players to come in later and play with the aggressive intent that Mohammad Hafeez showed so devastatingly today.
The pitch at The Oval was tailor-made for strokeplay, and I was hugely impressed with how well Pakistan dealt with India’s bowling threat in comparison to the same fixture earlier in the tournament. The spinners were attacked cleverly and with real skill, and it’s not often you see both Ashwin and Jadeja go the distance in the same game.
Once Pakistan had got to such a big total, the start of India’s innings was made even more important. Had India got off to a flyer, as Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Darwhan have enabled them to so often, that pressure would have very quickly transferred back to Pakistan bowlers.
Mohammad Amir’s sensational opening spell quashed any real hope that India had of mounting a challenge, with the key wicket of Virat Kohli to go with Shikhar Darwhan and Rohit Sharma. He has the pace to trouble the very top players, and is very skillful with respect to when he makes use of his in-swinger. The presence of the swing was evidently in Kohli’s mind as he nudged in uncharacteristic fashion against Amir early in his innings.
Kohli is always the key scalp for any side facing India, and Azhar Ali will be very thankful that his drop proved not to be at all costly. Once Kohli departed, the wind was taken out of the Indian sails as both Yuvraj and MS Dhoni failed to get going, in what will likely be the last time they play in a major final for their country.
Pakistan has a history of producing wonderfully skilled bowlers. You think back to the likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, two greats of the game who’ll be hugely proud of how their country’s seam battery have bowled at this tournament.
They have been the only bowling unit to get the white ball moving with any sort of consistency, and the discipline they have shown as a team in terms of restricting and squeezing sides has gone a long way to winning them the tournament. Today was slightly different in that their bowlers simply blew the Indian top order away, killing any real hope India had of chasing Pakistan down.
Hassan Ali departs as the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, having improved his international stock in the process. Against South Africa, he produced two moments of class to bowl Wayne Parnell and JP Duminy from around the wicket. That skill is one that will make him a truly potent force as long as he stays fit.
India never managed to get away from Pakistan today, even when Hardik Pandya struck some lusty blows to steady the ship momentarily. The damage had already been done, and you could sense that Pakistan smelt blood.
Sarfaraz was excellent in terms of galvanizing the team from behind the stumps, and you could see from his visceral response to their victory how much it meant to him personally.
In summary, despite not being a close game, it was a superb final played in an unbelievably lively atmosphere. The game had everything, and proved to be a truly fitting end to a tournament in which the lowest ranked side has emerged as deserved winners. Well played, Pakistan!
This article was originally published on www.icc-cricket.com
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