The eighth edition of ICC Champions Trophy finale will see India taking on Pakistan at The Oval in front of a packed Asian crowd. India, the defending champions were expected to go through the final and team India just with one hiccup against Sri Lanka, sailed through the finals after routing South Africa (league match) and Bangladesh (semi-finals). Pakistan on the other hand had to fight to get to the finals and were written off after they lost their opening encounter against arch-rivals India. Pakistan, being Pakistan surprised everyone and gave a mighty shock to favourites England in the semi-finals at Cardiff.
Are India over reliant on top 3?
India’s performance in the tournament can be credited to immense amount of runs scored by the trio of Rohit Sharma (304 runs in 4 matches), Shikhar Dhawan (317 runs in 4 matches) and captain Virat Kohli (253 runs in 4 matches). Dhawan and Sharma have already added two hundred plus stands (Pakistan & Sri Lanka, both league matches) and the new No 1 batsman in ODI cricket Virat Kohli has found form at the right time. The ‘holy trinity’ have totally outclassed the opposition and left very little for other batsman to do.
The contribution of top three had an inverse impact on the middle-order and lower-middle order. Yuvraj Singh (53 vs Pakistan), after hitting a half-century against Pakistan hasn’t had much to do. MS Dhoni (63 vs Sri Lanka) played a quickfire innings against Sri Lanka, but that effort went in vain as India lost that match. India’s lower middle order of Kedar Jadhav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja have hardly done anything because of excellence of the top order. Pakistan’s varied and diverse bowling attack will pose questions to the Indian batting and if the top three fails on the big day then rest of the batsman have to get the job done and control the match.
Coming of age of Indian bowling and fielding
The most heartening aspect of the Champions Trophy has been the performance of Indian bowlers and fielders. India’s new ball pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have bowled well in tandem and have flummoxed the opposition. The spinners as usual have done the job and Pandya as an all-rounder has blown hot and cold.
Indian fielding in this tournament has come up in leaps and bounds and players like Jadeja, Kohli, Dhawan and Rohit have fielded like tigers, especially in the match against South Africa (3 run-outs of De Villiers, Miller and Tahir). On the big day of final, fielding will play an important role and Pakistan have to improve their effort drastically, if they want to compete with India.
Do Pakistan believe in themselves?
The age old question of why Pakistan freezes against India in ICC events hasn’t been answered. Pakistan have an atrocious record in the ICC matches (losing all World Cup and World T20 matches). The only solace for Pakistan has been the CT, where they have won two matches (2004 & 2009). After losing the first match, Pakistan transformed their game completely and played with a renewed vigour. The performance of youngsters like Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Babar Azam has been excellent and the core group of seniors have also performed well. Pakistan will hope that Mohammad Amir gets fit and Captain Sarfraz Ahmed leads from the front.
The only thing that stands between Pakistan and the title is their composure and making sound decisions under pressure. The ‘green brigade’ always plays fearless cricket, when they are cornered and if they want to beat India then Pakistan should evoke the memories of 1992 World Cup and just play their mercurial kind of cricket.