By all accounts, an exciting final is in store when India and Pakistan meet on Sunday at Kennington Oval, London in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Almost a billion ardent cricket fans are expected to be glued to their television screens in the belief that they will have a day of cricket to cherish when these two arch rivals take each other into showdown to be crowned champions of a global cricket event.
After their 124-run defeat in the rain-curtailed match in the group stage against India, Pakistan was thought by many to be another ‘also ran’ team in this championship and nobody could imagine that they would reach the final. But their resurgence was phenomenal. After their shambolic loss against India, there was an exceptional turnaround with victories against South Africa, albeit under DLS method by 19 runs and Sri Lanka by 3 wickets. Their semi-final victory against hosts England was clinical. England, the only unbeaten team at the group stage, was bowled out for 211 runs and Pakistan won by a comfortable margin of 8 wickets with 77 balls to spare.
India, in the same group as Pakistan, had a blip against the Sri Lankans when they failed to defend a score of 321 runs and lost by 7 wickets. But they did come back in the crucial match against the Proteas bundling out the opponents for 191 runs and notching up an easy victory by 8 wickets. Their semi-final victory by 9 wickets against Bangladesh was virtually a ‘walk in the park’.
There is no doubt that the Indians have shown their mettle and are the favourites. Their top order batsmen have been in the runs with opener Shikhar Dhawan the highest scorer so far with 317 runs. He was also the leading run scorer four years ago with 363 runs against his name. He has a formidable opening partner in Rohit Sharma who is not far behind with 307 runs. And then there is skipper Virat Kohli who played a brilliant innings of 96 not out in the semi-final. Getting past these batsmen will take some taking for the Pakistani bowlers.
The other batsmen like Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav did not have to do much with the bat. In the bowling department, seamers Bhuvneswar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have combined magnificently and their bowling in the ‘death overs’ have paid dividends for the Indian team. India played with two recognised spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in their last two matches and it is expected that these two world class spinners will be able to contain the Pakistani batsmen.
Pakistan has shown great improvement in their batting after their dismal performance in the opener against India. Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali have been in great form. Babar Azam, Mohammed Hafeez and Shaoib Malik make up the rest of the batting order. Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed played a very responsible innings in the victory against the Sri Lankans. But Pakistan has to rely on their bowlers to pin down the Indian batsmen.
Young Hassan Ali has been a great find. He has now taken 10 wickets in four matches with 3-wicket hauls in 3 of them. He also has the ability of restricting the batsmen in the middle overs. His vibrancy, passion, energy and enthusiasm seem to resonate in the whole team when he comes to bowl. It is thought that fast bowler Mohammad Amir will be fit for the final. The other opening bowler Junaid Khan has also made useful contribution along with spinner Imad Wasim. Pakistan will have to rely heavily on their rising star Hassan Ali and Imad Wasim if they have to pin down the formidable batting line up of India.
The weather forecast says it will be a scorcher and the toss could play a vital role. In all the matches that Pakistan won, they restricted their opponents to a score of fewer than 250 runs and notched up the required runs when set to chase. It is not known whether a new pitch or a used one will be chosen for the final, but the team winning the toss is likely to ask the opponents to bat first as Virat Kohli also likes to chase a target rather than setting one.
Fans of both the teams in England have been desperate for tickets and despite the efforts of the cricket authorities, touts around the ground are sure to do a brisk trade on Sunday. Even on ticket exchange websites, tickets were being offered for £1,000. Such is the enthusiasm and passion for an India-Pakistan cricket fixture.
Pakistan has been given the tag of underdogs in this final as beating a side so well-balanced and strong like India could prove to be an uphill task. But the Pakistanis will relish that tag as they were in the same situation against England in the semi-final and they showcased their talent to reach the final as worthy winners.
All eyes are now on Kennington Oval as India vies to become the second team to retain the ICC Champions Trophy. Nearly a seventh of the world’s population will tune in to witness this showdown and all they ask for is a great showcase of cricket filled with passion, competition and excitement so that this great fixture lives up to its name.