LONDON (Reuters) - Pakistan enhanced their long-held reputation as one of the most unpredictable teams in world sport with an extraordinary and overwhelming victory over bitter local rivals India in the Champions Trophy final on Sunday.
Widely written off after an abject display in their opening group match against the same opponents, the lowest-ranked team going into the tournament suddenly rediscovered their mojo.
They beat South Africa, the world’s top-ranked one-day side, and Sri Lanka to reach the last four before dismantling previously unbeaten hosts England with a ruthless semi-final performance.
“It sort of feels surreal really, to be honest,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur told a news conference.
“But the thing about that loss to India was we knew that was an aberration. It wasn’t the norm because we had prepared properly. We knew the calibre of players we had so we just had to keep believing.”
Pakistan still went into the final as huge underdogs against an Indian team who had beaten them in eight of their 10 previous meetings in the World Cup and Champions Trophy.
But a brilliant century by Fakhar Zaman laid the foundations for an imposing total of 338 for four and Mohammad Amir came up with a devastating opening spell to rip out the cream of India’s batting, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan.
“What I do know is that Mohammad Amir, he’s a big match player,” said South African Arthur.
“I do know that when the game is on the line and the bigger the game the more he performs, the more ramped up he gets, so he doesn’t shy away from pressure situations. He’s got proper big match temperament, and he showed that today on the biggest stage.”
Hasan Ali drew inspiration from his fellow fast bowler to take three wickets and, supported by tigerish fielding which has not always been a feature of Pakistan cricket teams, they bowled out India for 158 to win the trophy for the first time.
It was Pakistan’s first global 50-over title since the 1992 World Cup and a sweet moment for a team who have been unable to host international cricket in recent years due to security concerns.
“I think it’ll be massive (for Pakistan cricket),” Arthur said.
”I‘m sure that the nation of Pakistan is really happy tonight because they deserve it for what they’ve been through.
“The fans not identifying with their heroes because they just don’t see international cricket. That’s massive for the country. So let’s hope that this really kick-starts that momentum in Pakistan again.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar