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Pakistan: champions of the unexpected

About Pakistan's triumph in the Champions Trophy, two things can be said for certain. The first is that now we've seen it all. The other is that we have seen it all before, over and over.

Let me take you back to, well, any year since Partition, really, but we'll say 1992. It was the World Cup, the first in the Antipodes. No one rated Pakistan. They lost their first game to the West Indies by 10 wickets, and when they were bowled out by England for 74 in Adelaide, they were as good as out of the tournament. Then rain intervened, and Pakistan suddenly got up a gallop, and beat the only unbeaten team in the tournament, New Zealand, in their own backyard, and immediately did it again in a semi.

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Pakistan thrash India in Champions Trophy shock

Pakistan defies the odds to overwhelm arch-rival India by 180 runs and pull off a major upset in the Champions Trophy final at The Oval in London.

Irresistible now, Pakistan rolled over favourites England in the final at the MCG, leaving the English without a 50-over trophy that anyone would remember.

But wait, there's more. The semi was won by an unknown batsman, new to the team, whose style was scarcely MCC manual, but whose hits stayed hit. For Inzamam Ul Haq, read Fakhar Zaman. The final was won in a withering burst by a left-arm quick with hints of both genius and skulduggery about him. For Wasim Akram, read Mohammad Amir.

Lay the rest of the template of 2017 over 1992 and behold. Eighth and lowest-ranked team, behind even Bangladesh, squeaking into the tournament with a qualifying win over Zimbabwe. Thrashed in their first game, by India, the team they wanted to beat more than any other and so never could when it mattered. Scramble into the semi-finals and then beat unbeaten England, leaving them still without a 50-over trophy that anyone could remember.

As for the final, then and now, the received wisdom was that only one team was cut out to cope with the big stage. That wisdom was returned to sender. Then, Pakistan demolished England. Now, they broke India's spell. Smashed it. Two balls stood for almost all that Pakistan bowled and faced in the tournament. The first, from Amir to Virat Kohli, was dropped at slip, a sitter. The next was caught at backward point. About Pakistan, you never know what it is coming next, but it is coming fast.

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There have been many other such Pakistan moments down the years. They come in all shapes and sizes. One misty morning in Lahore, Steve Waugh walked off a practice bat shaking his head and wondering  why the net bowler he had just faced, a leg-spinner, was not in the Pakistan Test team. It is not certain that he ever played even first-class cricket.

Official selection policy then and for years afterwards consisted of whoever caught Imran Khan's fancy while netting. Sometimes it was a glorious batsman, sometimes a spinner who could turn the ball inside out. He might be 16 and he might be 36; no one really knew.

Pakistani cricket never has been famous for its strategy, organisation or cohesion. There always has been about it a blitheness unlike any other. When it doesn't work, it can be embarrassing, and sometimes even actionable. When it does, it is world-beating. Even now that the boffins and their laptops and their spreadsheets have come, there is still a sense that the animus of Pakistan cricket will not  be found among them.

Pakistan is the place of elsewhere. The country is politically alone, near to a pariah state. The cricket team has been in self-exile for eight years. How would Australia fare if they had to play permanently out of Otago? They're struggling to keep their act together playing out of Australia. Arguably, Pakistan have under-achieved over the years. But what would represent achievement for a team of vagrants and itinerants? Pakistan have turned their weakness into a strength.

The Champions trophy might not be the most glittering jewel in cricket's crown, but India and England were hell-bent on winning it, and so were Australia.

Pakistan beat them all to it. When least likely, logical or expected, when almost out of sight and mind, when having little by way of form, personnel or track record to recommend them, when playing  as a kind of wild card, Pakistan tends to do that.