On Sunday at The Oval in London, yet another one-sided, semi-boring match was played between two traditional cricket rivals – just like the previous one in the tournament. Earlier, the margin of defeat was 125 runs, and on Sunday, it was 180 runs. This was no thriller. The fans had expected the same too. It wasn’t going to be competitive. It almost never is, over the last decade.
The Indian fans didn’t mind that.
Pakistan turned the tables on India in a spectacular fashion in a no-contest of an ICC Champions Trophy final. It was their first final. It was India’s third. They couldn’t out-Pakistan themselves because the match never got close to begin with. In the process, the country won its second major ODI trophy after the 1992 World Cup, and its first Champions Trophy ever – completing its limited-overs cabinet with the 2009 World T20 victory. The only other teams to win all three are India, West Indies and Sri Lanka.
As absurd as it sounds, India were outplayed in all departments, right from the beginning. It wasn’t a defeat; it was a thrashing. This was only the second match they had lost over the last two Champions Trophy tournaments in England – the first being the match against Sri Lanka ten days before the final. That match of the group stages, actually, was to define India’s defeat in the final against Pakistan, too.
India’s Bowling Against Lanka
More than a week before the final, India’s bowlers managed to take just one wicket against Sri Lanka while defending a target of 321. The other two were run outs. A weak Lankan batting lineup chased down the target with 9 balls and 7 wickets to spare. It seemed like a minor blip in India’s path to the final, but in hindsight this was the game that changed everything. Ravindra Jadeja gave away 52 runs in his six overs, but hit back in the next game with an economical performance against South Africa. But Umesh Yadav, who has been India’s best bowler for a year now, leaked 67 runs in his 9.4 overs. Virat Kohli picked Ravinchandran Ashwin as the second spinner after this game, with Yadav warming the bench for the next three matches. It didn’t help that India defeated South Africa and Bangladesh with Ashwin in the team; he didn’t do anything spectacular either. This meant that Yadav, who was dropped because of the Lanka game – India’s only frontline bowler – didn’t play the final. He had taken three wickets against Pakistan in the first match, but the management put their trust in a toothless Ashwin instead. The result was NO frontline seamers against Pakistan. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled well, but Jasprit Bumrah is not supposed to open the bowling. It showed. They gave away 337 – virtually the same number of runs as they did against Lanka.
Pakistan’s new opener and sensation, Fakhar Zaman, was finding it hard to connect in the opening overs against India. He looked uncomfortable. Bumrah bowled one cutting across him, lured him into a half-drive, resulting in a nick to Dhoni behind. Seconds later, it became obvious that Bumrah had overstepped. Zaman stayed. A wicket off a no-ball – the worst kind of omen to start a final with. 112 runs later, Zaman was finally dismissed. By now, Pakistan were well on their way to a huge total. Add to that two more no-balls by Bumrah (consecutively, in the penultimate over), as well as five wides – and we have a performance that rivals Zaheer Khan’s spectacular meltdown against Australia in that infamous World Cup Final back in 2003.
Ashwin prides himself on his academic understanding of the game and its nuances. He doesn’t play by impulse like Pakistan or West Indies, but in a studied, deliberate manner. Everything is pre-planned. At times, too pre-planned. His defensive leg-stump line to Fakhar Zaman through the innings made no sense. He didn’t want to give room to the opener, but as a result lost any chance of taking any wickets. He single-handedly reduced the match down to an egoistical personal contest instead of affecting variations for the team. It was one of the worst spin-bowling performances in the history of cricket finals. He gave away 70 runs in his 10 overs, without bowling a single wicket-taking ball. Another team could have slammed 90 against him.
After Kohli’s “double dismissal” for 5 by an on-song Mohammad Amir, it was revealed crucially that Kohli has averaged 22 in 8 tournament finals. The best batsman in the world loves chasing and has a phenomenal record in ODI cricket, but this number is alarming – almost reminiscent of his idol Sachin Tendulkar’s form in finals. Kohli had been outscored by both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma in the last Champions Trophy as well as the 2015 ODI World. He ended the tournament with 250 runs. His only two dismissals came against Sri Lanka and Pakistan at The Oval – for 0 and 5 respectively. And they were the two matches that India lost out of the five they played. The team still depends solely on his form, despite Dhawan’s phenomenal scoring.
Like Kohli, Jadeja’s second two nightmare games of the tournament came against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. He not only got thrashed for 67 in his 8 overs, but effectively ended India’s chances while batting, too. Hardik Pandya were helping Indian fans to dream again with a West Indian-like belligerent batting performance. He zoomed to 76 off 43 balls, slamming the spinners all over the ground. He looked set to do a Kapil Dev of 1983 against Zimbabwe, or at least take India to a respectable total. But Jadeja ran Pandya out, selling him a dummy and not sacrificing himself, just when things were getting interesting again. The Man of the 2013 Final was now the opposite – India’s biggest villain on the 2017 evening. Cricket is a cruel game.