Venue: The Brit Oval in London
Time: June 18 at 10:30 AM local and 15:00 hours IST
The main picture
In the years gone by, an India-Pakistan Final is just what the cricket-watching public will have wanted to witness. These two cricketing nations were highly competitive, though not indomitable. Therefore, India-Pakistan matches more often than not had a lot of drama and were a test of nerves for the players and the passionate fans.
Even at the start of this decade, Pakistan were a good one-day side who boasted quality fast bowlers and had Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq lending stability to the batting line-up. The 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final was the last of the epic battles between these two cricketing nations. Even though India won and progressed to the Final, Pakistan had provided a good contest which was decided only late on in Mohali. Since then, though, the status of their one-day side at least, has gradually declined.
This decline is the reason why Pakistan’s comprehensive eight-wicket win over England in the first semi-final created a huge buzz and had most of us calling it an “upset”. What that win also taught, or reminded, us was despite their decline as an ODI side, the aspect which is constant with the Men in Green is their “unpredictability”.
Although a no-brainer, barely anyone will have expected the Pakistanis to beat South Africa and England en route to the Champions Trophy 2017 Final, after losing their opening Group B encounter against India by 124 runs. But with their well-known strength, the bowling, coming to the fore, Sarfaraz Ahmed and co. have enjoyed resounding success over the last week and in doing so, have warned the cricketing world to not take them lightly ahead of Sunday’s Final.
Pakistan’s batting is still suspect and their struggle to chase down 237 in their final Group B match against Srilanka was evidence of why you cannot entirely put your money on Sarfraz Ahmed’s men. If Srilanka had fielded better, we will definitely have had another team reaching the Final. The Pakistanis have benefitted immensely from having Fakhar Zaman open the innings. The left-handed opener has garnered 138 runs in three and most importantly, provided his team quick starts every time. He will be key to Pakistan’s chances against their arch-rivals, along with the mainstays of the batting line-up, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.
Virat Kohli and co. are “overwhelming favourites” who as we had said at the beginning of this tournament, are an extremely resourceful unit. The top order comprising Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, has been imperious, and the bowling attack hasn’t failed to deliver the breakthroughs at the vital moments. Their fielding had been abysmal in the first couple of matches, but the Men in Blue have improved in that department too over the last two matches.
On Thursday, the Indian frontline spinners failed to provide control and Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim threatened to take control of the semi-final, by putting together a 100+ partnership for the third wicket. But Kohli turned to Kedar Jadhav and thanks to a touch of naivety and impatience from the Bangladeshi batsmen, India clawed their way back into the contest. This was evidence of the versatility of Team India and why Pakistan have a monumental challenge of beating them to the Champions Trophy.
India, make no mistake, are the team under pressure because of their own form in this tournament and the universal expectation that they will go on to defend their title. Pakistan used a similar scenario facing England in the semi-final to their advantage and put in arguably their best performance in this eight-team tournament. So, if they can overcome the intimidation factor that seems to confront them whenever they go up against India, no reason why they cannot go toe-to-toe and pull off another upset.
India vs Pakistan in Champions Trophy
The head-to-head stands at 2-2 following India’s win in the ongoing edition of this tournament. But all meetings so far have been in the group stage of this competition and Sunday will be the first time that India and Pakistan meet in the Final.
Records in Finals
Sunday’s Final will be India’s fourth of a global tournament in this decade and they have won two (the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2013) of the three played so far. In this competition, India have reached their fourth Final (2000, 2002 and 2013), winning and losing one and the other being a washout. Their opponents, on the other hand, are playing their first Final in eight years (the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 Final was the last). Pakistan will also be playing their first-ever Champions Trophy Final. The fact that this team has plenty of new faces and they are an unfancied bunch can work either way.
Team news and playing XIs
Mohammad Amir, who didn’t play the semi-final against England due to a back spasm, is likely to feature in the Final against India. The left-arm pacer took part in a training session normally. If Amir is match-fit, then Rumman Raees will have to make way, despite taking 2/44 in his nine overs against the Poms.
The rest of the Pakistani line-up is likely to remain the same from their last match.
Pakistan’s probable XI against India: 1. Sarfraz Ahmed (c and wk), 2. Azhar Ali, 3. Fakhar Zaman, 4. Babar Azam, 5. Mohammad Hafeez, 6. Shoaib Malik, 7. Mohammad Amir, 8. Imad Wasim, 9. Hasan Ali, 10. Shadab Khan, and 11. Junaid Khan
Pakistan have brought back the fit-again Mohammad Amir back into their line-up.
Even though India can bring in a specialist bowler for Hardik Pandya, particularly with the dominance shown by the batting line-up, I do not foresee Kohli and the team management changing a winning combination. If they do decide to leave Pandya out, then Mohammed Shami might well make his return to the Indian one-day side after a near 27-month gap, having last played an ODI on March 26, 2015.
Ravi Ashwin suffered an injury during a practice session on Saturday, and might miss the Final as a result.
India’s probable XI for the Final: 1. Virat Kohli (c), 2. Rohit Sharma, 3. Shikhar Dhawan, 4. Yuvraj Singh, 5. MS Dhoni (wk), 6. Kedar Jadhav, 7. Hardik Pandya/Mohammed Shami, 8. Ravindra Jadeja, 9. Ravichandran Ashwin/Umesh Yadav/Mohammed Shami, 10. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and 11. Jasprit Bumrah
India are unchanged from the semi-final win over Bangladesh.
For Pakistan to be successful, their bowling attack has to come good, unlike in the first meeting against India on June 4. Bowling is their strongest suit and in order to unsettle India, they need to pick early wickets and get into the middle order whether they bowl first or defend a score. Kohli said in the post-match interview on Thursday that the middle order’s lack of batting time in the middle isn’t a concern for the team management. But a loss of early wickets on Sunday will tell us more about this Indian team, particularly the batting line-up. For the moment, India all together look a flawless side who will have to play badly or fail to replicate the form they have shown, to not walk away with the trophy.