LONDON: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said he hoped his side’s stunning 180-run Champions Trophy final win over arch-rivals India would be a catalyst for the full return of international cricket to his homeland.
Bottom-ranked Pakistan produced a breathtaking display at London’s Oval on Sunday in the climax of a tournament featuring the world’s top eight one-day international nations.
They piled up 338 for four, with Fakhar Zaman making a dashing 114 — the left-handed opener’s maiden hundred in just his fourth match at this level since a debut in Pakistan’s group-stage win over South Africa.
Mohammad Amir then reduced India to 33 for three by dismissing all the members of the title-holders’ top three, with Rohit Sharma out for a duck and opposing skipper Virat Kohli, the world’s leading ODI batsman, falling for just five.
There was no way back for India, who collapsed to 158 all out with nearly 20 overs of the match as they suffered their heaviest defeat by runs in 129 ODIs against Pakistan.
With the exception of Zimbabwe’s tour two years ago, Pakistan have had to play all of their ‘home’ matches outside their own country since a 2009 terror attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus in Lahore.
“I hope this win will boost Pakistan cricket and hopefully all the (major) playing nations will come to Pakistan,” said Sarfraz.
This Champions Trophy went ahead as scheduled despite a terror attack at a pop concert in Manchester, northern England, on May 22 that killed 22 people. And it continued even after another deadly attack at London Bridge, barely two miles from The Oval on June 3 in which eight people died.
But after the victims were remembered with a minute’s silence by a capacity crowd, fans at The Oval were soon engrossed by an extraordinary match.
“I think great things went for me and my team and my country,” Sarfraz told reporters after a win made all the more astounding by the fact Pakistan had suffered a 124-run defeat by India in their tournament opener at Edgbaston on June 4.
“Hopefully this win, everyone will remember, not just for today, not just for tomorrow, but for a very long, long time,” added the wicket-keeper/batsman.
Sarfraz paid tribute to the influence of a coaching staff led by Mickey Arthur, who took charge shortly before Pakistan’s tour of England last year, where a Test series was shared but the ODI campaign lost 4-1.
“They motivated us,” explained Sarfaraz, also Pakistan’s captain when they beat India in the 2006 Under-19 World Cup final in Colombo.
“When we arrived here (in England), we were No 8 and now we are the champions,” said the 30-year-old gloveman.
Pakistan, who will aim for more ODI glory in England at the 2019 World Cup, looked anything but tournament winners after their opening loss. But Arthur insisted that reverse had been an ‘aberration’.
“We just had to keep believing … they kept on believing, trusting their roles (and) trusting the gameplan that ‘Saffy’ (Sarfraz) and I had set up.”
Arthur played down his own role by adding: “This isn’t about me and my career; it’s about 15 unbelievable players in that dressing room.
“I was telling somebody the other day that I’ve had five semi-finals with South Africa and never got to a final. I got to one final with Pakistan, and eventually got a medal.”
Amir, whose career was nearly ended on the other side of London’s River Thames by a ban and jail sentence for his involvement in a spot-fixing scam during a 2010 Test at Lord’s, made a brilliant comeback after a back spasm forced him out of the semi-final victory over England.
“Amir was the guy that could do that for us,” said Arthur.
“We were always thinking there was one spell in there somewhere, and the spell came thankfully at the start of a final.
“It says a lot about his personality […] but what I do know is that Mohammad Amir is a big-match player.”