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Pakistan soar to 338 with Zaman’s maiden ton

Pakistan soar to 338 with Zaman's maiden ton

Pakistan 338 for 4 (Zaman 114, Azhar 59, Hafeez 57*) v India
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Agarkar: India not been under this much pressure in a while

This was no innings. It was a dream sequence.

Fakhar Zaman, four knocks into his international career, struck a buoyant big-match century against his team’s arch rivals, denting key bowlers out of shape during a 128-run opening stand with Azhar Ali, before a bristling Pakistan grew the total with hitherto unsuspected power and skill.

To chase Pakistan’s 338 for 4, India would not only have to orchestrate the biggest ever successful chase of the Champions Trophy, they would have to make more second-innings runs than they ever have, in any ODI, away from home – their previous highest score having been 331 in Sydney.

And of all the surprises Pakistan has sprung this tournament, a snowballing innings such as this, in which only one batsman was dismissed for a score of less than 45, seems the most incredible. India will have to harness the full power of their batting machinery if they are to eclipse Pakistan’s score. It was almost a good thing that Azhar was run out for 59 in a moment of incompetence, in which both batsmen ended up at the same end. If that had not happened, we might have collectively struggled to believe this was a Pakistan batting effort at all.

It had not been a chanceless performance, by any means. Sprinkled right through Fakhar’s 106-ball 114 were the wisps of madness that have punctuated Pakistan’s Champions Trophy. First, in the fourth over, there was the nicking off to the keeper on three, before Jasprit Bumrah was found to have overstepped bowling that delivery – much to Virat Kohli’s seething chagrin. Then thick edges and mis-timed shots off bouncers would become almost reliably fruitful – one particularly woeful leg side heave in the 32nd over landing surprisingly safe, just beyond midwicket. And even aside from the dismissal of Azhar Ali, Fakhar’s running between the wickets did not always feel secure.

Yet, in his innings were also the flashes of inspiration, and the roaring ambition of Pakistan’s campaign. Uncowed by the near misses, Fakhar ran down the pitch to smite India’s quicks to the leg side, flitted about his crease to manufacture shots against the spinners, and with no little help from Azhar, heaped pressure on key points of the opposition attack. Bumrah was never allowed to recover from the shock of that early missed wicket, going for 24 off his first three-over spell, and 12 off his next two overs.

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R Ashwin was clattered around almost clinically in his initial spell – mostly by Azhar – and he went for 28 from his first four overs as well. For the remainder of the innings, both bowlers struggled with their lines and lengths – Bumrah delivering too many hittable length deliveries, Ashwin bowling too predictably straight.

In the field, India were a mess of uncharacteristic misfields, as their bowlers racked up a wide count of 13. Which team is playing in their fourth major final in six years again?

It was after Azhar’s dismissal, for which his partner can take most of the blame, that Fakhar raised the tempo to an extent that set Pakistan on track to their eventual score. He hit 15 runs off one Ravindra Jadeja over -the 26th of the innings – to which new batsman Babar Azam contributed a further run. Then despite being beaten in the flight by Ashwin next over, he still managed to crash him over the straight boundary, before a thick edge went to the third man fence a few balls later. Having been 56 off 73 balls at one stage, he hit the remaining 44 runs he needed for a hundred off the next 19 balls. The off-balance sweep for four off Ashwin was a fitting way for this innings to go to triple figures.

Fakhar was out soon after, leaving Pakistan at 200 for 2 in the 34th over, but Babar ensured the party would carry on. He was regal square on either side of the wicket, and in a particularly memorable sequence, slapped Hardik Pandya past point, then cracked him to the square leg fence next ball. The introduction of Kedar Jadhav brought an end to Babar’s innings, but Jadhav would soon go on to be walloped for two sixes in the space of three balls by Imad Wasim and Mohammad Hafeez, who took the baton from Babar. Together those two added 71 off the final 45 balls of the innings – Hafeez especially effective as he hit three sixes and four fours in all, to wind up with an unbeaten 57 off 37 deliveries.

Apart from the destruction around him was Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was by a distance India’s most disciplined bowler, going for only 44 in his ten overs and claiming the wicket of Shoaib Malik. He and Bumrah conceded only 33 runs from the last four overs, which given what had preceded it, was a good result for India.

The remaining bowling figures do not make for pretty reading. Bumrah, Ashwin and Jadeja all went at seven and over or higher. Pandya was good in comparison, taking 53 for 1 in his ten overs.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

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