Pakistan barely managed to sneak into the ICC Champions Trophy as the eighth-ranked team. The way they were outplayed in the group stage game against India justified their ranking and almost gave us a glimpse into their future in the tournament. Most, including their own, had written them off.
Their cricket board had constituted a three-man enquiry committee to probe into the loss against India. And then something changed.
They dropped Ahmed Shehzad for ODI debutant Fakhar Zaman, started the bowling attack with two seam bowlers, Mohammad Hafeez was given a ball and the team transformed.
Pakistan choked South Africa, got a little lucky against Sri Lanka, downed England in style and then brought their A game in the final and returned the favour to India.
Pakistan’s rise will always be scripted by their bowlers and in Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan – they seemed to have found the match-winning combination. If they could somehow unearth one more Fakhar Zaman, their rise will not be limited to one Champions Trophy title.
Batting wins You matches...Bowling wins You tournaments...cliche but Pakistan proved that it's true. Pak's rise is good news for cricket!!!— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) June 18, 2017
On the other hand, India found out that while winning the trophy is tough, retaining the crown is a lot tougher. Even though India got lucky with the draw (they didn’t play Australia, New Zealand and England), they did fall short in the final frontier.
Before we discuss the lessons learnt from the campaign, it’s important to acknowledge the way the Indian team played in crunch situations. The way they annihilated South Africa and Bangladesh after the loss to Sri Lanka was a good indicator of how good this team can be.
HARDIK PANDYA’S BATTING
India captain Virat Kohli has invested a lot of faith in Hardik Pandya and the Baroda all-rounder justified that faith in the final. It was only the third time that Hardik finished his quota of 10 overs in his young ODI career and the way he batted showed that he’s arguably the cleanest hitter in this team.
He hit more sixes (10) than any other batsman in the tournament despite playing only a handful of deliveries. While his bowling still needs work (must start bowling a lot fuller), his batting looks ready to take over the mantle of finishing from Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni.
SWING IS KING
Flat batting surfaces have made speed an overrated asset and the only way to thrive with the white ball is to make it swing in the air. Even when most Indian bowlers were taken for runs, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was exceptional both with the new and old ball.Barring the final against Pakistan, his partner Jasprit Bumrah also showcased why he’s been rated highly by one and sundry. It’s time we thank the Indian Premier League [IPL] for giving us two bowlers who can be trusted to be as effective as some of the best death-over bowlers.
Looking at Pakistan’s rise to the top, it was, perhaps, prudent to play either Mohammed Shami or Umesh Yadav throughout. As they say, batsmen win you matches, bowlers win you tournaments. India were always a bowler light.
The way both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma combined to provide a solid and stable start almost every single time, it’s wise to put the opening combination debate to bed in the 50-over format.
While there were no doubts about Rohit’s place, there were enough sceptics about persisting with Dhawan at the top. The southpaw has shown that he’s not just cracked the ODI code but has almost mastered it. He’s a creature of confidence and Kohli’s faith in his abilities has paid rich dividends.
MIDDLE OVER CONUNDRUM
If there’s one area that India need to address in 50-over cricket, it is their ability to pick wickets and score briskly in the middle overs. If it wasn’t for Kedar Jadhav’s golden arm, Bangladesh would’ve scored in excess of 320. Out of the four wickets that India took against Pakistan, one came courtesy a run-out and Jadhav took one.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja haven’t been as effective as the team would’ve liked, and it allowed the opposition to pile on the pressure. Since most teams go slow in the first ten overs, it’s crucial to look for wickets in the middle overs and, unfortunately, it didn’t happen for India.
Similarly, while batting, Indian progress got somewhat halted during 31-40th over. Most teams look to accelerate post the 30th over and prepare for the final push, India could only do it if two of the top three were around and seldom after being three-down at the 30-over mark.