Who would have thought the 1992 ODI World Cup champion and 2009 World T20 champion Pakistan would enter the Champions Trophy as no one's favourite?
Who would have thought the three-time semi-finalists will bring up the rear of the eight-nation tournament two places behind their neighbours Bangladesh?
But again, who would have thought a team that is known for being consistent only in being unpredictable is now in the finals of the Champions Trophy?
The 'maverick' team beat tournament favourites England in the semi-final and eliminated South Africa en route to the finals for the first time.
From being decimated by India in their first match to having reached the final to meet their ‘arch-rivals’ once again, the resurgence of Pakistan has been the story of the tournament so far.
However, if this relatively inexperienced team wants to cement its place in history by becoming the first Pakistani team to have won the Champions Trophy, they will bank on these five key players to come out all guns blazing:
One of the three debutants picked in the Pakistan squad for the Champions Trophy; the player fondly called 'Fauji' by his teammates got his Pakistan cap only after Ahmed Shehzad's uninspired performance in the tournament opener against 'arch rivals' India. Riding on powerful domestic performances, Fakhar Zaman has repaid the selectors' faith by scoring back-to-back half centuries in crunch do-or-die matches, steering his team into the final for the first time. After missing out on the tournament opener, he would look forward to meet India for the first time and deliver on his famed promise.
When the former Pakistan ODI captain takes guard in the final of the Champions Trophy on Sunday, he will be playing his 50th match. After resigning from his captaincy in February and falling out of favour with the selectors this year, a recall into the Champions Trophy team was seen as a wrong move by critics. However, having hit two-half centuries in the tournament, Azhar Ali would look to consolidate on the opportunity and silence his detractors. If he manages to convert his starts into big scores, he could prove to be the big match player that Pakistan are looking for.
Being the most experienced player in a Pakistan side that is constantly in a stage of flux is no mean achievement and speaks volumes about the temperament of the all-rounder. The right-hand Shoaib Malik who always took a special liking to performing against India has so far had a pretty quiet Champions Trophy that has seen the young guns of Pakistan outperform the veterans in the team. Malik, the only player in the team to have won an ICC championship, would like to remind why he is still important in Pakistan's scheme of things.
The most mercurial bowler in the present Pakistan squad has found his rhythm in the ongoing tournament. Being out of the selectors' favour for the better part of the past two years, Junaid considered moving to England to resurrect his career before receiving a call back in 2017. The injury to Wahab Riaz came as a blessing to Junaid Khan and Pakistan, who are riding on his exploits with the white ball. Junaid would like to do away with the uncertainties surrounding his place in the Pakistan squad. This can happen if he bowls a dream spell in the final against India.
The leading wicket taker in the Champions Trophy with 10 wickets in his kitty, Hasan Ali is the lynchpin of Pakistan's bowling attack. The predominantly left-armed Pakistani seam attack is now revolving around this right-arm seamer who seems to have come of age in the tournament. Hasan, who played against India for the first time on 4 June in Pakistan's Champions Trophy 2017 opener, was belted all over the ground. Though he had an exemplary showing in the subsequent matches of the tournament, the 23-year-old will look to change the lone blemish in his career so far. What could be a better place to do it than the Champions Trophy final to be held at The Oval?
Looking at the present form and line-up, India seem to be having the upper hand over Pakistan. However, the 'unpredictable' tag attached to Pakistan works in whimsical ways and the Sarfraz Ahmed-led team would like the tide to turn in its favour. Even if it doesn't, Pakistan would look to these five players to rally the team around them and script what will definitely be a much-needed and memorable win. And these are the five key players who can spoil India's party and hence the 'Men in Blue' have to be wary of them.
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2017 13:06:23 IST