A Pakistan fielder is hovering above the Oval turf. He’s launched himself towards a ball that has been smashed to backward point. He grabs the ball in one take while still completely horizontal. If this were another team, this would just be modern fielding, but the distance covered, the athleticism, the grace, the execution, it all seems completely foreign when in Pakistan green.

Shadab Khan is an 18-year-old in an ICC final fielding in the most prominent place on the ground in a team that started the tournament with balls going through there like they were on a silver platter. And he’s flying.

Jasprit Bumrah starts the fourth over with a wide down the leg side. But he more than makes up for it next ball when a length ball outside off stump takes the edge of Fakhar Zaman and is caught behind. Zaman is walking off, the man who has changed the Pakistan top order from an old woman pushing a shopping trolley to a rally car flying around bends dangerously. This was justification for India bowling first, ending the new opening partnership that has rattled the last three opponents, and upsetting the way Pakistan win. But then Zaman is stopped, and there is good reason for it. Bumrah has overstepped.

Zaman hits a four the second ball after his reprieve, an inside edge past his stumps. He has got seven runs; five of them have come between his hands and the stumps. At the other end, Azhar Ali slaps a straight pull down the ground like it’s what he is known for, like he hasn’t just found the ODI form of his life in the last week.

Bumrah bowls another wide, in the match he’ll finish with three no-balls and five wides. The opening partnership that he didn’t break will put on more than a hundred runs.

Both men are standing at the same end. It is a scene so frequent in Pakistan cricket that it feels like it is part of their game plan. Azhar flicks a ball off his pads, he takes off for a safe single, and for some unknown reason, Zaman doesn’t run. Bumrah gets to the ball in a dive, gets up a bit slowly, and throws the ball back to MS Dhoni, who casually takes the bails off. India missed the first five run-out attempts they made (Azhar should have been out at least twice), so to be sure, the clinical mind of Dhoni takes the bails off, then pauses, before taking the entire stumps out of the ground.

Pakistan’s great start is over, and that first real pang of panic has come through. For the next two overs, there are only six runs, as the Indian spinners, who have been struggling to get back on top, build pressure.

Zaman doesn’t like dot balls, they sicken him. So he starts hitting the ball everywhere. A six goes deep into the OCS Stand. He leans back on the next one and slashes it wide of point, and then launches one over cover when they change the field. The next ball he runs down the wicket, looks like he is going to fall over, and then plays a Happy Gilmore-style swipe over long-on. He follows up with a beautiful shot through cover, and then an edge through a vacant slip. It’s 33 runs in two overs. The Indian pressure bubble is popped, spat on and mocked.

Zaman might not have been in the squad if Sharjeel Khan was available. If Ahmed Shehzad had made runs, Zaman might not be in the team, and here he is, smashing his third straight attack in his third straight knockout game.

Zaman’s innings is full of edges, a collection of pull and hook shots that he either edges, gloves or lets be hit on his helmet, disastrous running between the wickets, and the odd moment of magic with timing that shouldn’t come from the technique that produced it. Despite the luck, the most amazing thing is that belief he has in himself. It might be a guy in his fourth game, but it looks like a guy who has been doing this for ten years and doesn’t fear failure. India v Pakistan, hundreds of millions watching every ball, and he’s like a club cricketer who has raced there from work and wants to have some fun.

One hundred and fourteen runs from 106 balls of pure, crazy match-winning fun.

A great yorker gets through Mohammad Hafeez and bounces back onto the stumps. There are other days when something like this would have left Pakistan fans in utter despair; now they are laughing.

Some fans did despair when as Pakistan were approaching the death overs, Hafeez – with his career strike rate of not enough – came out to bat. Hafeez is a quality player, but like many allrounders he has struggled because he has rarely been good enough with bat or ball, and therefore he always looks like he underperforms when he’s quite useful. But a death slogger? That’s surely too much. Pakistan have performed miracles just to get this far, in this game, and this tournament, but this, no.

First ball: four. And not just a four, but a four past a long-off who was out there to stop it. Fourth ball: four. Moves across his crease to smartly sweep it fine. Seventh ball: four. This time he smashes the quick out to deep midwicket. Fifteenth ball: four. Oh, come on now. Eighteenth ball: six. Is this a dream, is he going to wake up and be disappointed that it’s still the morning before the match? Twenty-second ball: six. No, enough, what the hell?

And then the ball hit the stumps, the bail jumped, the ball bounced back several metres, but the bails didn’t light up, the bails didn’t come off, Hafeez is not out. Pakistan laughs, not at him, with him. Even the bails are supporting Pakistan.

Against Bhuvneshwar Kumar, he launches a six straight. No one has hit Bhuvi today, he’s been the one India bowler to star, and now Hafeez, who didn’t look in the right position, who isn’t known for sixes off quicks, is slapping him down the ground to finish the innings.

Mohammad Hafeez has made 57 not out from 37 balls. It is unbelievable. Pakistan have made 338. It is unbelievable.

Mohammad Amir is bowling to Rohit Sharma, and behind him are 338 runs. Rohit could, on the best of days, make 264 of them on his own. The first ball takes the inside edge, crashes into the pad and limps out in front of a tentative-looking Rohit, who thinks about a run before a flying Amir comes to show his masculine power. The next ball Rohit leaves alone as if it’s too dangerous for him to be involved with. Off the third, he is out. Struck straight in front, with a ball pitching somewhere near leg stump.

Pakistan go crazy in the middle, and the Indian openers have a mid-pitch chat about whether they should review. They never even get to the review bit, the umpire tells them they took too long. India are so rattled they can’t even decide on a review.

This has been Hasan Ali’s tournament. He kept Pakistan in it for two games, before claiming a win in the semi-final as well. But today is Mohammad Amir’s day. You could smell it in the confusion of India. The ball is curving and he is prowling.

Zaman is on his hands and knees, face in the turf. He wasn’t involved in the last delivery, but he’s devastated by what happened to it.

Amir was working over Virat Kohli; he had already beaten the inside edge, he’d already got a leading edge. Kohli might have been King Kohli last match, but at times in this tournament he’s looked like he did on his disastrous tour of England a few years ago. Like outside off stump is a death trap. So when Amir takes his edge, and a simple catch floats through to slip, it all looks perfect.

The ultimate redemption for Amir, taking Kohli the captain, the ODI megastar, the biggest swinging chaser in cricket. And then Azhar drops the catch.

Amir is angry, Pakistan are upset and Zaman is distraught. One ball later Zaman is not on the ground, he’s on the shoulders of Amir. This leading edge goes to Shadab, who doesn’t need to fly to stand out, just take the catch. In the space of two balls, Pakistan have shown their entire life story. Amir is redeemed, Pakistan are on top, Kohli is gone.

When Kedar Jadhav hit the ball straight up in the air for a few seconds – an eternity in Pakistan cricket – the entire ground was silent. A full house, two massive nations at home on TV, radio, apps and websites, all silent as one. And then the catch was taken and it wasn’t quiet again.

That was the last partnership between two batsmen. If India had any hope left, it left with Jadhav, but more importantly, if Pakistan had any panic left, it also left with him.

When Faheem Ashraf was out against Sri Lanka, Pakistan needed 75 runs to win, to stay in the tournament, and they probably shouldn’t have got them. Sri Lanka may have had an undermanned bowling attack, but they were so on top that the last three wickets should have been a formality.

At this point in the tournament, Pakistan had a 1-1 record, they had made 445 runs, losing 20 wickets, and scoring at 4.90 runs an over. From that point onwards they made 628 runs for six wickets at over six runs an over. Jekyll, Hyde. Pakistan, Pakistan.

But to just start at being seven wickets down against Sri Lanka, or even when they lost to India would be way too simple. They were terrible in ODI cricket for so long that they almost didn’t qualify for this tournament. Pakistan, former World Cup and World T20 winners and No. 1 Test team, put off a bilateral series against Zimbabwe to ensure they could qualify. That wasn’t all; they also lost two players before this series because of a corruption investigation. And then lost another player because he wasn’t fit enough.

So the No. 8-ranked team, with three of their squad not here, lost the first game to India by a million runs. They had to face up against the No. 1 team in ODI cricket in a knockout game straight after. They were seven wickets down against the team with the worst record and they practically had their bags packed and were contacting the airline, asking for an aisle seat. They had to play a semi-final against the favourites of the tournament, in the favourites’ home. And then after all that, slaughter, rain, chance and skill, they then had to front up against India in the final.

They made South Africa fall apart when it was supposed to be them, they made Sri Lanka panic when it was them who usually panic, they pushed past England the way England pushed past them, and they smashed India out of the game in the exact way India were supposed to smash them.

This is one of the greatest comebacks in the history of cricket. It wasn’t a comeback in one game, or against one opponent, it was against the best the world had, in four straight knockout games. They were lucky to get here, luckier to stay, and then once they found their feet, they were as glorious as Pakistan one-day cricket can be.

Hey, Pakistan of 1992, look what these boys have done.

Shadab to Yuvraj Singh. The youngest player to ever play in an ICC final up against the man who had played in more ICC finals than Shadab’s entire nation, and also won more ICC tournaments than them. And he’s facing some kid, a PSL fad with a tricky wrong’un who may fade away from cricket just as quick as he arrived in it.

Yuvraj has overcome cancer and being a middle-order player for 17 years in one of the greatest batting line-ups in cricket. Sure, this game was tough, his top order was gone, but if he made it through to the 40th over with a batsman to spare, he could still give this a big shake. At his best Yuvraj doesn’t hit the ball, it bounces off his aura with the timing of a million of Shastri’s tracer bullets. A couple of overs back he started slapping Hafeez around, hitting three boundaries, in what were the first real blows of India back on Pakistan.

A day before Shadab turned two, Yuvraj made his debut for India. The first ball is simply turned into the leg side. Yuvraj takes a single. The next ball he faces is on a good length outside off stump. When it lands, a small part of the pitch is dislodged, and Yuvraj flashes at it. But Yuvraj doesn’t see that it’s the wrong’un. This warrior who has been there and seen it all has been done over by this kid’s wrong’uns. The ball ends in the gloves of Sarfraz Ahmed. The hands that, as it turns out, are the safest in cricket right now. In more ways than one.

At Edgbaston, Shadab bowled a wrong’un to Yuvraj, who sliced it straight to long-off. It was an absolute sitter. Yuvraj was 8 off 8, India were 205 for 2 after 38.4 overs. Yuvraj hit 45 off his next 24 balls, India made 118 from the next 9.2 overs.

This time Shadab follows up the wrong’un with a ripping legbreak. Shadab appeals, but the umpire says no. Yuvraj is forward, front elbow up, bat straight, watching the ball trickle out safely on the offside. It’s a dot ball. But Shadab is not having the disappointment, he’s striding down the wicket pointing, demanding his captain review the decision. No, not again, this is his wicket, his man, he has him, it’s now his time. Sarfraz trusts him, as he has trusted his entire team. How he trusted three debutants, a young squad, a few discarded journeymen and even a teenager to field at point. Sarfraz is right, Shadab is right, Yuvraj is gone.

The Pakistan teenage legspinner won his battle against an Indian ODI champion. Because Pakistan were flying today.

Source: ESPN Cricinfo



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