Tour review

ICC Champions Trophy 2017

1 Pakistan 2 India 3= Bangladesh, England
A few days into the tournament, it emerged that the Pakistan team were being driven around in a bus made notorious by the previous summer's Brexit campaign. Its giant message, pledging to divert £350m a week from the EU to the NHS, had gone. But the bus carried another notion, apparently just as spurious: the cricketers within were planning to lift the Champions Trophy.

The opening skirmishes had not gone well. Pakistan had been thrashed by India at Edgbaston, looking every inch the competition's bottom-ranked side (they had scraped in ahead of West Indies). And in the tetchy press conference that followed, their coach Mickey Arthur had to fend off suggestions his team were not even trying. Students of Pakistani ebb and flow wondered if this could mean only one thing.

And so, as sure as Eid follows Ramadan, Pakistan set about one of the most stunning transformations since Imran Khan's cornered tigers won the World Cup 25 years earlier. A fortnight after that initial defeat, they were thrashing India, this time in the final. Against the odds, they had provided a competition that had been overshadowed by a general election and terrorist attacks with a punchline to savour. For the second summer in a row, their players cavorted around The Oval. Only partisan Indian fans failed to see the joy in it all.

Pakistan's revival centred on their fast bowling, so often their trump card. After conceding 319 for three in 48 overs during that early mauling by India, they limited South Africa to 219 for eight, Sri Lanka to 236 and - in a semi-final which demanded the world take them seriously - England for 211. Hasan Ali finished with 13 wickets (four more than anyone else), found reverse swing in a tournament notable for an absence of lateral movement, and celebrated with a star-shaped vigour that felt like an heirloom from Shahid Afridi. But the most visceral spell came from Mohammad Amir, whose first five overs in the final took care of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. Of the 900 runs those three totalled across five matches, only 26 came on that hazy day in south London. Junaid Khan, Amir's fellow left-arm quick, completed an irresistible trio.

Then there was Fakhar Zaman, 27 and uncapped in the format. He had seemed destined to be known for two things: a stint in the navy, and an unrewarded List A average above 50. But, asked to open in Pakistan's second game, against South Africa, he provided their batting with an adrenaline rush, flailing 31 off 23 balls. Left-handed, fearless and determined to enjoy every minute, he was the Champions Trophy's rabbit from the hat. Next came 50 off 36 deliveries against Sri Lanka, then 57 off 58 against England. In the final, having spent the previous day throwing up, he was caught behind off a Jasprit Bumrah no-ball on three, and went on to 114. Above all, Fakhar allowed steadier colleagues to bat around him. Pakistan's 338 for four that day was the tournament's highest total, and ended a sequence of eight games won by the team batting second. It was all so gloriously unexpected, and Arthur could hardly believe his luck. "I've had five semi-finals with South Africa and never got to a final," he chuckled. "Now one final with Pakistan and I've got a medal!"

The progress of Pakistan was not without controversy - especially if you supported England. Eoin Morgan's men had emerged from the group stage as the only unbeaten side, confirming their status as favourites with dissections of Bangladesh, New Zealand and Australia. But in the semi-final at Cardiff they encountered their worst nightmare: a worn pitch, used two days earlier for Pakistan's nip-and-tuck win over Sri Lanka, which pivoted on a dreadful drop by Tissara Perera. Batting first, England were spooked; having just blitzed a century against Australia, Ben Stokes prodded 34 off 64 deliveries. The run-a ball mayhem that had underpinned their renaissance gave way to old-style timidity. Morgan stayed just the right side of a whinge, conceding that Pakistan had been the better side, but implying the scheduling had done England no favours. It was odd that they might have had a better chance of reaching the final had they finished second in their group, which would have meant a semi against India on a true surface at Edgbaston. Quite why a major tournament could not produce a fresh pitch for a crucial game was never adequately answered.

England had been the team to beat, despite losing Chris Woakes to a side strain only three overs into the curtain-raiser against Bangladesh. Joe Root's unbeaten 133 turned a chase of 306 into a stroll, and their new-found ability to take wickets in the middle overs - led by Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett, both making liberal use of cross-seam deliveries - meant they were always in the hunt. When they eliminated Australia at Edgbaston, the force seemed with them.

Meanwhile, India elbowed their way through. Background tension between captain Kohli and coach Anil Kumble might have derailed lesser sides, but Kohli had the chutzpah to deny the rumours - even if Kumble's resignation two days after the final suggested otherwise - and the players to shrug off the distraction. A surprising defeat by Sri Lanka at The Oval aside, his team looked in good shape to defend their title. Their batting was as Rolls-Royce as ever, even if the success of their top three limited the opportunities of others until the final. But their seam bowling was not far behind, with Bumrah a closing overs operator par excellence. It felt unjust that his no-ball to Fakhar should have such damaging consequences. Traffic police in Jaipur used a huge side on image of his transgression to warn drivers: "Don't cross the line. You know it can be costly."

India's passage to the final highlighted both the good and the not-so-good in the tournament's structure. They had reached the semis after winning a group stage match against South Africa that became sudden death. Since 15 games were scheduled across 18 days, every one counted, and not until New Zealand lost to Bangladesh in the ninth was a team knocked out - a welcome counterpoint to recently bloated World Cups. Yet Bangladesh, India's opponents in the last four, had got there thanks to a solitary partnership, between Shakib Al Hasan and Mahmudullah, against New Zealand at Cardiff.

The result confirmed Bangladesh were no longer pushovers away from home, but they also knew that, if rain had held off for four more overs against Australia at The Oval, they would already have been out. Tamim Iqbal finished with more runs than anyone bar India's openers but, predictably, the semi-final was a walkover. Partly because of the weather, Australia cut peripheral figures in a competition that took place - as far as their fans at home were concerned - in the middle of the night. If they were unlucky against Bangladesh, the weather had already saved them from probable defeat by New Zealand. Then, presented with the chance to beat England and qualify for the last four, they were swept away by Morgan and Stokes. All the while, captain Steve Smith fielded questions about his players' contractual dispute with the board. For him and his side, it was a tournament to forget.

South Africa, too, ended with little to cherish, and failure came with a familiar kick. Victory over Sri Lanka and a rain-affected defeat by Pakistan had paved the way for a scenario they had hoped to avoid for one more game: a winner-takes-all clash, against India at The Oval. From 140 for two, the South Africans endured a pair of tragicomic run-outs, a collapse - and renewed claims of choking. It was a fair cop, and the post-match insistence of A. B. de Villiers that he remained the man to lead them at the 2019 World Cup sounded faintly deluded.

New Zealand were too reliant on the batting of their captain, Kane Williamson, angelic at the crease and stoic at the mike. He started with a hundred against Australia, but his dismissal in a tough chase against England signalled the beginning of the end of his side's hopes, and his run-out against Bangladesh encapsulated perhaps his only weakness. Ultimately, the allrounders who clogged up his team brought to mind the old gag about the former New Zealand seamer Bob Cunis - neither one thing nor the other.

Sri Lanka failed to translate their heady pursuit of 322 against India into a place in the last four. Had Perera caught Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed to end an ultimately match-winning eighth-wicket stand, they would probably have qualified. Graham Ford soon stepped down as coach amid the usual rumours about government interference in selection. And not long after that, following a one-day series defeat at home by Zimbabwe, captain Angelo Mathews followed. Sri Lanka's was not a happy camp.

Yet their fans played their part in an event that underlined why England and to a lesser extent Wales - give or take the odd downpour - were the ideal venues for a global tournament. If some wondered reasonably enough why none of the three grounds was further north than Birmingham, especially when Cardiff failed to sell out its three group matches, then the UK's South Asian diaspora were never less than uplifting. It didn't matter, as it would in almost every other cricket-playing nation, that the hosts played in barely a quarter of the matches. The most vibrant atmospheres came at games involving the four subcontinental teams - proof of the ECB's belated realisation that the future of English cricket will rest largely on Britain's Asian communities. The ICC, as tournament organisers, were alive to the dynamic: two group games - Australia v Bangladesh and Pakistan v South Africa - were day/night affairs, aimed at encouraging Muslim fans to break their Ramadan fast at the cricket after the sun went down. Frustratingly, both were hit by rain.

In some ways, this was a strange tounament. The belief that England's win over Bangladesh would presage a string of record-breaking chases proved erroneous. The one-sidedness of every game except Pakistan v Sri Lanka did little to quell the fear that 50-over cricket could not continue to ward off the challenge of Twenty20. And, more than once, hired Scandinavians dressed as Beefeaters held up play as they strolled behind the bowler's arm en route to the drums they banged at key moments.

Then, after the pleasure in Pakistan's win had died down, it transpired that for the Champions Trophy, the ravens were about to leave the tower. This edition was itself a stay of execution: before the 2013 tournament, the ICC said it would be replaced by a Test championship, only for TV executives to can that idea because it risked excluding India. In the meantime, though, fears over Test cricket's health had intensified, so the championship was back on the table. And since the main chunk of the 2019 World Cup had been reduced to ten teams - only two more than here - the distinction between the two 50-over competitions was becoming meaningless. For the second time, the ICC suggested the Champions Trophy had had its day. If so, it had gone out with a bang.

Match reports for

1st Match Group A: England v Bangladesh at The Oval, Jun 1, 2017
Report | Scorecard

2nd Match Group A: Australia v New Zealand at Birmingham, Jun 2, 2017
Report | Scorecard

3rd Match Group B: South Africa v Sri Lanka at The Oval, Jun 3, 2017
Report | Scorecard

4th Match Group B: India v Pakistan at Birmingham, Jun 4, 2017
Report | Scorecard

5th Match Group A: Australia v Bangladesh at The Oval, Jun 5, 2017
Report | Scorecard

6h Match Group A: England v New Zealand at Cardiff, Jun 6, 2017
Report | Scorecard

7th Match Group B: Pakistan v South Africa at Birmingham, Jun 7, 2017
Report | Scorecard

8th Match Group B: India v Sri Lanka at The Oval, Jun 8, 2017
Report | Scorecard

9th Match Group A: Bangladesh v New Zealand at Cardiff, Jun 9, 2017
Report | Scorecard

10th Match Group A: England v Australia at Birmingham, Jun 10, 2017
Report | Scorecard

11th Match Group B: India v South Africa at The Oval, Jun 11, 2017
Report | Scorecard

12th Match Group B: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Cardiff, Jun 12, 2017
Report | Scorecard

1st Semi-final: England v Pakistan at Cardiff, Jun 14, 2017
Report | Scorecard

2nd Semi-final: Bangladesh v India at Birmingham, Jun 15, 2017
Report | Scorecard

Final: India v Pakistan at The Oval, Jun 18, 2017
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co.