Rise of the underdogs

Sarah Krause Roar Rookie

By , Sarah Krause is a Roar Rookie

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    The ICC Champions Trophy has been anything but predictable in 2017, with only two of the top four ODI teams managing to make it through to the semi-finals.

    World number one, South Africa, and current world champions, Australia, both bowed out in the group stage. Comparatively, second-ranked India and fourth-ranked England reached the semis where the latter were gloriously outclassed by Pakistan.

    Some instances this underperformance can be attributed to the inclement weather, with all three of Australia’s games being rain affected, credit must be given where it’s due.

    No one told Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Pakistan of the role they were expected to play as the so-called second-rate competitors of this year’s tournament. The first few games appeared to go by the script, with the sixth, seventh and eighth ranked teams all losing matches to their big brothers of the cricket world.

    The tigers of Bangladesh, who have a knack for upsetting bigger international opponents, began the tournament with a predictable loss to the English hosts.

    Sri Lanka followed with a resounding defeat at the hands of the Proteas – all out in the 42nd over and almost 100 runs short of their target. Not to be outdone, Pakistan were thrashed by their fiercest rivals and subcontinent neighbour, India, only a day later.

    However, any complacency felt by the top four teams was short lived. The underdogs seemed to find their fire in the backend of the competition with massive upsets recorded over South Africa, India, New Zealand and England.

    It no doubt helped that the stands of Cardiff, Birmingham and Edgbaston were made to feel like the streets of Lahore, Dhaka and Colombo due to the full-voiced fans who turned out in droves, full of belief in a team that many others had already written off.

    Now only Pakistan is left to represent the underdog plight. It is poetic that in their final match of the tournament, Pakistan must overcome their Indian rivals.

    Pakistan can be a great force – depending on their feeling on the day. They have a dubious reputation in the field, at times adopting a somewhat apathetic approach to the ball as it rockets towards them.

    This is not the team that emerged from the sheds in Cardiff for their semi final on Wednesday. They turned chances into wickets, boundaries into twos. They showed their determination, their desperation and their fight – and England could only sit and watch in horror as another trophy was ripped from their grasp. If Pakistan brings this same energy on Sunday, another upset could be on the cards.

    Virat Kohli runs after hitting a drive

    (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

    The best team in the world may not win the Champions Trophy; it will surely go to the best team on the day. But why does that matter? Why does that seem to discredit the entire competition in the eyes of some cricket fans?

    The only bad thing I can say about the Champions Trophy to date is that I wish England (and Wales) were significantly less wet. Other than that? I’ve been entertained; at times I’ve even been on the edge of my seat. The matches have been fast paced, they’ve been competitive and the underdogs have sure as hell not gone down without a fight. If they even go down at all.

    The Champions Trophy was always intended as an interim competition, something to hold the interest of cricket lovers while they impatiently awaited the next World Cup. So why are fans now labelling it a useless exercise, a ‘non-event’?

    The Champions Trophy provides an opportunity for smaller cricketing nations to compete against the best teams in the world – an opportunity they don’t receive anywhere near as frequently as their higher ranked rivals.

    Frequent, international competition, outside of the World Cup, allows these smaller nations to grow their game and emerge as serious contenders on the world stage. Cricket fans everywhere should welcome an increase in competitiveness within world cricket, particularly considering the monopoly seemingly held over the game by the Big Four.

    The likes of Tamim Iqbal, Hasan Ali and Kusal Mendis deserve to be spoken of with the same reverence and respect as Joe Root, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli for how they are changing the face of cricket in their respective nations.

    Whether Pakistan can complete their redemption story and overcome India’s dominance is yet to be seen. However, irrespective of the result on Sunday, it is perhaps time to reconsider their ‘second-rate’ status and give these underdogs the respect they so clearly deserve.

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