A maiden ODI century from Fakhar Zaman lifted Pakistan to 338-4 in the Champions Trophy final against India at the Oval.
Could we be in with a chance of seeing one of the biggest comebacks in major-tournament history? After losing their opener against India by a walloping 124 runs DLS method, Pakistan have won every match since, and India will now be hard-pressed to chase down the 339 Pakistan have set them.
India are going to have to break the record 321-6 they set in the group stages against Sri Lanka, but which their opponents tracked down with ease to surpass England’s previous tournament-record 308-2 against Bangladesh. They’re well-equipped to do so, with their strength lying in their batting and on a track that didn’t give the Pakistanis too many issues.
In a tournament where success has been crafted around chasing down totals, India opted to bowl first at the Oval in what was already billed as cricket’s greatest and most-watched rivalry as they faced each other a fortnight ago in Birmingham.
Once again, they have Zaman to thank for a pulsating start. The 27-year-old only made his debut in the second group match against the Proteas. He became the first in Pakistan’s history to score three fifty-plus scores in his first four games, backing up crucial fifties against Sri Lanka and then in the semi-final against England with his best yet.
He built up a 128-run stand with Azhar Ali at a constantly decent pace, with the only potential blip coming when Jasprit Bumrah thought he’d found Zaman’s edge for three, only for replays to reveal Bumrah had overstepped.
It took a moment of madness to bring about the breakthrough, as Azhar Ali went for a comfortable single, only for Zaman to hesitate. It cost Ali, who walked back for 59.
Zaman was in no mood for reflection, as he powered on and took his side over the 200-mark. In the process he brought up an outstanding century off 92 balls. A couple more whacks into the stands and he eventually departed for 114 off 106, which included 12 fours and three sixes.
Babar Azam built on the platform Zaman laid down with 46 off 52, allowing Mohammad Hafeez (57 off 37) and Imad Wasim (25 off 21) to do the damage in the dying overs. India can count their lucky stars that they have Bhuvneshwar Kumar in their ranks, who finished with figures of 1-44. Jasprit Bumrah was wayward with 0-68 from nine, Ravichandran Ashwin wasn’t allowed to settle at any stage with figures of 0-70.
Forty-four runs were scored off the last five overs, giving Pakistan a very realistic chance of winning their first-ever Champions Trophy title.
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