By Debayan Mukherjee
Kolkata: Pakistan’s unexpected journey to the final of the ongoing ICC Champions Trophy has more than one similarity to their 1992 World Cup triumph which was also a major upset of sorts.
Pummelled by arch-rivals India in their opening game on June 4, a team they will renew acquaintance with in the summit clash on Sunday, Sarfraz Ahmed’s unfancied side wears a distinctly similar look to the outfit 25 years ago when they lost their World Cup opener to the West Indies by 10 wickets at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia.
Regular captain Imran Khan was unavailable for the first game and subsequently did not play against England too. He captained the side in the rest of the matches.
Put in to bat by Windies skipper Richie Richardson, Pakistan rode on Rameez Raja’s 102 and Miandad’s unbeaten 61-ball 57 to post 220/2 in 50 overs.
But Desmond Haynes (93 not out) and Brian Lara (retired hurt 88) were too strong for the Pakistani bowlers to even take a wicket as they won with 19 balls to spare.
In the current championship tournament against India at Edgbaston, Pakistan pacers and spinners looked blunt as India recovered from a slow start with ease to post 319/3 in a revised 48 overs tie.
Pakistan’s batting, unlike 1992, looked out-of-sorts and the inexperience showed as none could keep their composure in the face of Indian bowling battery losing by a mammoth 124 runs.
Pakistan were battered by India in 1992 also when Imran’s boys were guilty of an abject surrender chasing India’s modest 216 and getting skittled out for a paltry 173.
But the defeat did not hurt them in their quest for a semi-final berth which was eventually secured because of the fortuitous win over England.
After their comfortable win against Zimbabwe, Pakistan were shot out for 74 and just when England looked to canter to a facile win, rain spoiled play and points were shared.
That was the tipping point for a turnaround and from there Pakistan qualified to the semi-finals riding a string of good performances against Australia, Sri Lanka and the do-or-die encounter against New Zealand who had not lost a game until that point.
This year also, albeit with a share of luck, Pakistan morphed from just-about qualified team — they beat Zimbabwe to edge past the West Indies as the eighth team in the competition — to the surprise packages who punched above weight and overawed the mighty England in the semi-final with elan.
Pakistan were fortunate to get a point from their South Africa game where they managed to restrict the Proteas to 219/8 in 50 overs but were tottering at 119/3 when the skies opened up and Pakistan won by 19 runs via Duckworth Lewis method.
Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed’s wards were up against a buoyant Sri Lanka fresh from their win against India, in a must-win match.
Down in the dumps chasing a modest 237, Sarfraz smashed an unbeaten 61 which helped Pakistan recover from 137/6 to an incredible three-wicket victory.
In the semi-finals, Pakistan bowlers — sans the services of their prime bowlers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir — tamed hosts England, who had till then not lost a single game quite like the 1992 side which downed favourites New Zealand to surprise all.
A distinct similarity has been the roles of Inzamam-ul-Haq, who had just made his ODI debut in 1991, and Fakhar Zaman who like Inzamam played a crucial knock in the semis.
Inzamam (60 off 37 balls) joined hands with Miandad (57 not out) to engineer a 87-run stand for the fifth wicket to stem the rot, while Zaman showed no big-game nerves to notch up a 58-ball 57 which eventually helped Pakistan sail through to the final with ease.
Amir is likely to be fit for the final, but even without him the green brigade have looked sharp in the bowling department, which has always been Pakistan’s strength over the years.
The likes of Hasan Ali, tournament’s highest wicket-taker so far with 10 scalps to his name in four matches, Junaid Khan, who has picked seven wickets in just three games and Rumman Raees, who on debut grabbed two wickets in the semis against England, have stepped up making the team a strong force to reckon with all of a sudden.
Amir would like to lead the pack like Wasim Akram did in that final against England, sending Allan Lamb (31) and Chris Lewis (0) back in two consecutive deliveries returning with man-of-match figures of 3/49.
India have never lost to Pakistan in the final — or a knockout game — of a major ICC tournament.
If India are to emerge victorious on Sunday, it would be like the 1985 Benson & Hedges Cup in Australia, where they first defeated Pakistan in the group stages and then upended them again in the final.
But Pakistan can draw confidence from the fact that even England were favourites to lift the Cup on March 25, 1992 at the MCG. (IANS)