Match Day 15

And so the most unpredictable tournament in recent memory finishes with a fittingly unpredictable result: Pakistan not just beating India but blowing their doors off. The same Pakistan which lost to the same India by 120 runs not two weeks ago. I have never seen a team go from outright terrible to simply brilliant in such a short period of time. Two weeks ago it looked like they were on their way home, that they didn’t even want to be in England, while today they looked like they could beat anyone in the world and have fun doing it.

Today’s match makes it—by my count–six matches with results you wouldn’t have put money on. Pakistan beating South Africa, Sri Lanka beating India, Bangladesh beating New Zealand, England beating Australia, Pakistan beating England and Pakistan beating India today in London. What a tournament. It just goes to show us that for all our understanding of the one-day game, it can still throw up a handful of curveballs.

I used the ICC rankings to predict the tournament before it began. Of the 12 group matches I got exactly three right. That’s horrendous and should put my dumb little system into suspicion, but the last time I used it–for the 2014 World T20s–I got almost 90% of the group matches right. This time around? 25%. I only got one of the four semi-finalists while last time I got three out of the four. We’ll see what happens in England two years from now during the World Cup.

But today shouldn’t be about me. Today is about Pakistan. Better writers than me will sum up what they did today at the Oval. And I suggest you read them instead. All I can really say is that they blew me away these last two weeks. They played bizarre, efficient, brilliant, unpredictable cricket. Cricket that made no sense and yet made all the sense in the world. They played liked they didn’t care but not in the negative sense but in the sense that they were just going to play their cricket and who cares what anyone thinks. They played the kind of cricket I love: bursts of energy in the attack robbing teams of their balance, and long opening stands that drive teams into the dirt with their heel. They did a nation proud, but they also did all of cricket proud. All cricket fans should hold their heads high today, even those who wearing the blue of India.

This is a Pakistan team that not seven years ago was everything that was wrong with cricket. Three players were convicted of accepting money from bookmakers to underperform at a match at Lord’s, just down the road from the site of their triumph today. The players were banned, arrested, tried and convicted. It was a sore spot on Pakistan, and on the game. Corruption is cricket’s biggest flaw, and for a time Pakistan were the poster child of that corruption. But the past is the past. Seven years ago they were everything wrong about cricket, today they are everything that’s right. Pakistan, to put it simply, are why we love this game.

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And that does it for the Champions Trophy. It was a fun few weeks of cricket and I am sad to see it go. But, of course, the cricket doesn’t stop. South Africa’s ongoing tour of England kicks off with the first of three T20s just three days from now. And they open what should be a wonderful Tests series on July 6 at Lord’s. That full series–including the Tests–will be live on ESPN3 for those that live in the states. Meanwhile India will be touring the West Indies followed-up by a trip to England for the Caribbean side. Later this year England head down under for the Ashes and a trip to New Zealand, and then in 2018 Australia head to South Africa for what should be a highly entertaining four Test.

Round and round the cricket schedule goes, never stopping, always moving toward an invisible point on the horizon. And that’s probably why I like tournaments, no matter their stature. They give the international calendar bookends–something the game sorely lacks and, as an American, something I have always had a hard time wrapping my head around. This is also why I enjoy domestic cricket–and I am happy to see that the English domestic season is live on ESPN3, as well. Cricket with a start date and an end date and a champion: that’s something I can get behind.

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I am also sad to see the Champions Trophy end because it has given me a real chance at keeping up on this blog. I hope I can continue, despite not having the spine of a tournament to rely on. When I stopped writing for the first time a couple years back, it was mostly because I had run out of things to say about the game–which is odd for most people because there is always so much to stay about cricket. But it felt like I was writing just to write, not because I was saying anything original or even really enjoying myself all that much. But these last few weeks have been fun, and I hope to continue. Right now the goal is to write more about County Cricket in England, but we’ll see.

Until tomorrow, or maybe the next day.

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