When the Champions Trophy was first played in 1998 as the ICC Knock Out Championships, the vision was to have a quick-fire brand of competitive and entertaining cricket, featuring all the main teams with their entire brand of stars, all on the same stage. This was to be the intermediate show piece which will fill in the four-year void between World Cups, something which can also be finished within a month.
A tournament entertaining enough to keep fans glued and exciting enough for the product to sell well, turning in to a major money spinner for the boards. But for some strange reason, that's not what happened. With an increasingly crowded cricket calendar, lack of competitive matches, and the advent of T20 cricket along with independent leagues, this tournament soon became a bane rather than a boon. 50-over ODI cricket was on the wane, and ICC was caught between expansion and excitement. The lack of interest soon spread to affecting its actual show-piece event, the ICC Cricket World Cup.
So what changed? After a series of dismal tournaments, ICC went back to the drawing board, shelved the idea of expansion (how many cricket fans are missing the likes of USA getting manhandled on a cricket field? That last happened in 2004 and what a depressing sight it was, not sure if this was the million-dollar idea behind taking cricket to the States), and then came up with the idea for a tournament featuring only the top-eight teams. This meant that two of their Full Member sides and all their Associates would miss out. The result is that today we have a tournament featuring only the top eight teams, all of whom are capable of beating the other on their day. You could further divide them into five genuine contenders and three dark horses. It was a party that no cricket fan wanted to miss (Honestly, we feel sad for the West Indies missing out. Truth be told, the present West Indies ODI unit sans all it stars would've been easy pushovers, and so would Zimbabwe. None of the associates are up to this level yet). Finally, ICC had a product that it could market. It was an experimental decision, but one can be pretty sure that they are not turning their backs on this. ODI cricket is once again relevant.
But who could’ve scripted this 2017 edition? Hey, it's still cricket, so you never know! What a tournament it shaped out to be and what a finish we had. We had the elements affecting many games, but that only added to the excitement. The fact that there are serious issues happening in England (Multiple terror strikes, the UK elections, the Grenfell Tower fire and Vijay Mallya showing up everywhere) didn't affected the tournament one bit. You still had crowds thronging every game oblivious to these facts. For once, England were favored to win an ICC tournament, and that sparked interest among the "actual" locals. Needless to say that the four South Asian teams had enough of their "residential" cricket fans. India may be the largest fan base but England sure has the most number of neutral fans. Here you had the Lankans dancing with their drums and the bugles, the Pakistanis; the Bangladeshis were greener than the lush-green outfields, and the Indians, do they even need mentioning? The atmosphere was electric and so were the games.
That's where ICC scored a masterstroke in hosting the Champions Trophy in England. To give you an idea, when India hosted the 2006 edition, the attendance for the final at the CCI Brabourne Stadium, which featured Australia and the West Indies, was about 26,000 people. This came after most games in tournament featured bare empty stands. The capacity at both Edgbaston and the Oval, is in excess of 25,000. Throughout the tournament, we've routinely seen mega crowds thronging in and stadiums packed to the rafters, even when the host nation was not involved. There was excitement in the air.
This tournament had it all. You wanted a level playing field and that's what you got. Everybody loves an underdog story and if that underdog is unpredictable with a flair for brilliance, that's an added advantage. The No.8 ranked team beat the World No.1 (all be it with some assistance from the rain gods). The most in-form team got knocked out by the most inconsistent team. Unpredictability at the highest. Then in the final itself, the rag-tag bunch stunned the self-assured superstars. Life has a great way of leveling things.
There was something for everyone. Kiwis and Aussies may be hard done to leave the tournament without a victory but they were still relevant till their very last game. If the Aussies were lucky to catch a break against the Kiwis, it was the same rain that cost them the next game. Then the Kiwis came charging off the blocks quickly, only to have that one partnership send the flightless birds flying home.
South Africa hasn't shrugged off the chokers tag yet, have they? They started with authority and soon fizzled out when it mattered. Sri Lanka made the world take notice of their young guns, literally, because their best game was against India, but in the next game they just played like Pakistan against Pakistan.
Bangladesh proved that they belong to the world stage, their defining moment was that one partnership against the Kiwis. England sailed through to the semis as the only undefeated team. Yet when it mattered the most, they faltered.
Meanwhile you had Team India at its best. A well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders and everyone in form. Issues in the build-up to the tournament and a brief hiccup against the Lankans, were all put to rest. After their dominating win over Bangladesh, with expectations from the kin and country running high, they marched into the final with authority.
And Pakistan were exactly the opposite. What a nightmare it is to be a Pakistani cricket fan. Written off after the first match against India, it even brought tears to the eyes of those Pakistani legends. They just didn't lose that match, they never even competed. Then turn up the next day and only as Pakistan can, surprise the best team in the world.
It was an ugly battle against the Lankans, but it still was a victory. Then get on a roll to knock out the best side in the tournament, all to set up a summit clash with India.
Even from a cricketing context, this shaped out to be a great final. Pakistan were beaten in the first game against India. They made some changes. Fakhar Zaman as the opener gave them the starts. Must also add that he was the only guy that took advantage of the field restrictions during the initial power play overs. Out went Wahab Riaz and in came Junaid Khan, suddenly the opening combination of Mohammed Amir and Junaid looked potent. With the likes of Hasan Ali and Shadab Ahmed, Pakistan was able to control the middle overs. Imad Wasim and the part timers chipped in with their mixed bag to complete the quota of overs. Amir and Junaid are deadly even at the death.
Bowling is definitely Pakistan's strong suite and they went up against India, which arguably has the best batting line up. All their batsmen are in form. Rohit Sharma and Shikar Dhawan, the top two run-getters in this edition, laying a solid foundation, complementing the likes of captain Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Kedar Jadhav to control the middle, and then MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya to finish it off. It would definitely take a super-human effort to restrict this batting line-up. It was truly a bat vs ball contest, or so we thought.
But the final didn't necessarily play out on expected lines. India made the cardinal sin of electing to bat second in a big final. Chasing may be their strong suit, but in a big final, it's always advisable to bat first and put runs on the board. Wish they'd learned from what Sourav Ganguly's men had to undergo at the 2003 World Cup final. If you let the team batting fist off to a good start, you are always playing catch-up.
More than the opponent beating you, it's pressure that beats you. India succumbed to the pressure. For Pakistan, it was shades of 1992 all over again. It's taken 25 years for them to win another major ICC ODI tournament, but the journey this team had to endure was eerily similar to what that team did. On a side note, much like the 1992 World Cup, this tournament was also held during the month of Ramzan. Call it divine intervention or increased focus, the month seems to bring out the best in them.
Pakistan may have won the title, but everyone is a winner. The reason I say that, ICC tournaments are all about making money and dividing them "proportionately" among its members. This tournament has certainly increased the revenue that each member gets, whatever be their share.
Here is an interesting fact about the sponsors. OPPO and MRF are not even operational in the UK, but they are two of the main sponsors and have had valuable air time to market their products to the TV viewers. The tournament may continue to attract sponsors who may have no presence in the host country, just as long as they still get viewers on TV. This is what ICC envisioned all those years back and finally it is happening. They have a product that is now marketable. In a strange way the excess revenue generated is becoming beneficial to the ICC's expansion cause.
Also by the author:Rohit Sharma, India's Inzamam-ul-Haq