Mohammad Hafeez hails Pakistan team spirit, India captain Virat Kohli credits opposition

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Mohammad Hafeez hailed Pakistan’s team spirit as the key to their stunning Champions Trophy final triumph against India.

Just two weeks ago, Pakistan were at a low ebb after crashing to a humiliating 124-run defeat against India in the group stage.

But Pakistan batsman Hafeez says his team-mates vowed to stick together despite the avalanche of criticism and they reaped the rewards in memorable fashion on Sunday.

Gaining sweet revenge over India, Pakistan thrashed their arch rivals by 180 runs at The Oval to win the Champions Trophy for the first time.

“It’s a great team effort. After losing the first game, we had no chance to lose again,” said Hafeez, who played an important role in the win with a classy 57 not out.

“We showed great character. I’m so happy for the nation of Pakistan who have been waiting for this for a long time.”

Fakhar Zaman’s maiden one-day international hundred laid the foundations for Pakistan’s formidable total of 338-4.

After man of the match Fakhar finished on 114, Pakistan pace bowler Mohammad Amir ripped the heart out of the India batting line-up with the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli.

India, looking to retain the Champions Trophy, went down without a fight as they collapsed to 158 all out and Amir felt his spell was crucial.

“Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli have been in tremendous form so I was looking for early wickets — and I did it,” he said.

Pakistan’s first global 50-over title since the 1992 World Cup reflected well on their Australian coach Mickey Arthur, who kept his squad from losing focus after their dismal display against the Indians earlier in the tournament.

Arthur admitted Pakistan were desperate to prove they could go toe to toe with tournament favourites India with the title up for grabs.

“It’s been an up and down ride for us but I’m so proud of the boys,” Arthur said.

“The whole group kept believing, we knew we were better than what we showed in the first game against India.

“That was an aberration. We want to be more consistent as a team.”

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed added: “After the India match in the group stage, I told the players the tournament hadn’t finished yet. Credit goes to my boys.”

“Fakhar is a great impact player, he played like a champion batsman. Amir bowled brilliantly but all my bowlers bowled really well.”

India captain Kohli conceded Pakistan were worthy winners and, while he claimed to be proud of his players, his admission that the new champions played with more passion was a damning indictment.

“I want to congratulate Pakistan first, they had an amazing tournament. The way they turned things around speaks volumes for the talent they have in their side,” Kohli said.

“They were more intense and passionate today, they deserved to win.”

“I’m disappointed but I have a smile on my face because I’m proud of how my team has performed in the tournament overall.”

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Sarfaraz Ahmed's men have to seize the moment as Virat Kohli and Co won't give them a second chance

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Virat Kohli plays a shot as Pakistan keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed watches on.

If you are follower of Pakistan cricket you are guaranteed a roller-coaster ride, high on cloud nine one day and hitting the pits the next day.

But, when they get going, it’s quite a joy ride where even the mightiest of opponents are made to look like paupers.

Their performance in the current Champions Trophy tournament is a perfect example of how and what they are. Since their 124-run defeat to India in their first match, they dismantled top-ranked side South Africa, Sri Lanka and hosts England to set up a mouthwatering summit meeting with India.

Blessed with an abundance of natural talent, they always have the bowlers to tame the best of batting line-ups in the world as they have demonstrated in English conditions. Following their opening debacle where they conceded 319 runs, no other team has been able to score more than 236 runs (made by Sri Lanka) against them. South Africa and England, who possess some of biggest power-hitters in the modern game, came a cropper as they could only muster totals of 219 and 211.

The Pakistan bowlers led by the brilliant pacer Hassan Ali will once again be under the spotlight as they get their best shot at redemption when they line-up against a powerful Indian batting unit at the Oval on Sunday.

If there is any bowling that can stop the marauding Indian batsmen then it is this Pakistan bowling unit – comprising the immensely talented Mohammad Amir, provided he is fit, Hassan Ali, experienced left-arm pacer Junaid Khan, young leg-spinner Shadab Khan, the miserly left-arm spinner Imad Wasim besides the seasoned off-spin of Mohammad Hafeez.

Debutant left-arm pacer Rumman Raees is an able replacement for Amir as he showed in the first semi-final against England. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed has settled in nicely with this bunch and knows exactly when to push them in the attack for maximum effect.

As it has been throughout the tournament, the odds continue to be stacked against Ahmed’s boys in the final as well. Barring the odd blip against Sri Lanka, defending champions India have trampled all their opponents to storm into the final. Unlike Pakistan, who draw most of their strength from bowling, India have proved to be very effective with the ball as with the bat.

Besides, Virat Kohli and Co have previously played two games at the Oval which has resulted in a defeat (against Sri Lanka) and a victory (against South Africa), so they know precisely what the surface has in store.

In contrast, Pakistan will have to adapt quickly as they will be playing their first match of the tournament at the Oval.

Above all, the biggest factor that will determine the winners will not be the odds or their past displays. It will all boil down to how much self-belief Pakistan carry into the game. In the previous match they were a bunch of nervous wrecks allowing India to dictate.

If Pakistan raise their level, backed by a strong desire to win, we can expect a cracker of a contest where Ahmed’s boys can even lay their hands on the trophy. They will have to seize the key moments and run away with it but if they falter, Kohli’s boys will not give them a second chance.

The plan is simple: deny Indians the runs, the rest will take care of itself, provided Pakistan batting doesn’t have a hopeless day.

Pakistan have done exceedingly well to win three matches in a row after a heart-breaking defeat consigning their unpredictability factor to the bin. However, the big question returns to haunt them again ahead of the final: whether they have left enough gas in the tank for a fourth victory or will they get overwhelmed by the big occasion and the ‘old enemy’?

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Pakistan ready to 'change history' against India in Champions Trophy final

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Pakistan players thanking their fans for turning out in big numbers.

Pakistan are ready to change the course of history in a clash that’s “bigger than the Ashes” when they face arch-rivals India in the Champions Trophy final.

Some estimates suggest Sunday’s match between the sub-continental cricket giants at the Oval in south London could attract a worldwide television audience of more than a billion viewers.

Title-holders India will be firm favourites against a Pakistan side who were the lowest ranked of all the teams taking part in a tournament featuring the world’s top-eight one-day international sides.

It was only on June 4 that India launched their title defence with a 124-run rout of Pakistan at Edgbaston.

Yet even by their own “unpredictable” standards, Pakistan’s transformation since that reverse has been remarkable and on Wednesday they knocked previously unbeaten tournament hosts England out of the competition with a comprehensive eight-wicket win in Cardiff.

Pakistan have yet to play a match at the Oval this tournament but in bowling coach Azhar Mahmood, who spent several seasons at his “second home” playing for Surrey, they have someone familiar with all the vagaries of the London ground.

And the former Pakistan all-rounder insisted all the burden of expectation was now on India’s shoulders.

“We’ve got nothing to lose — the pressure is more on them,” Azhar told reporters at the Oval on Friday.

“They are ranked higher than us – so everyone is talking about India, India. But I can tell you one thing — we have come to win.”

India have won all three of their previous matches with Pakistan in the knockout stages of International Cricket Council tournaments to date but Azhar, 42, said there was no reason why the sequence had to be extended this weekend as well.

“India have the upper hand in ICC tournaments,” he admitted before adding: “But things can change, and this is the time for us to change the tag that we don’t perform well at ICC events.

“History can change, and I hope we can (change it).”

Meanwhile Azhar said there was no hiding from the scale of a fixture which, mainly because of political pressure, rarely takes place outside of a major international tournament.

“It is massive,” said Azhar. “India refuse to play against us (in Pakistan’s adopted home of the United Arab Emirates).”

“But (now) on the biggest stage it is India v Pakistan. It is like the Ashes … it is bigger than the Ashes — and expectation is high from both nations, crazy about cricket.

“The pressure is high for both sides and their countries … it is a dream final for the sponsors and the broadcasters,” he added.

“This is the game they want, but it is up to us how we handle the pressure on the day.”

And he insisted a Pakistan victory would be no great surprise. “It wouldn’t be a shock if we won.

“No one gave us a hope when we got here. We were the number eight ranked side, and no one gave us any credit.

“But someone asked me before the tournament who would be in the final and I said Pakistan,” Azhar insisted.

“I believe in my boys … if we win it would be a great gift to the whole nation.”

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