Holders India firm favourite for title

- Agence France-Presse, LONDON

Jun 18, 2017-

The game that always ‘stops two nations’ comes again to a third when title-holders India face Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final at London’s Oval ground on Sunday.

And the question millions of cricket fans around the world, possibly even a billion, are all asking is ‘which Pakistan will turn up?’. Will it be the team of their opening group match at Edgbaston on June 4, a 124-run thrashing by archrivals India, where some often thoughtless bowling and timid batting were only outdone only in their ineptitude by woeful fielding during an allround performance labelled “shambolic” by Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur?

Or will it be the slick, skilled side who hammered England by eight wickets in the semi-finals, with Hasan Ali, the competition’s leading wickettaker, spearheading a brilliant bowling effort as the previously unbeaten tournament hosts were dismissed for just 211 before the likes of Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman helped knock off the runs in dashing style?

When it comes to assessing most teams, the temptation is to look at their most recent result as a form guide. But not only have Pakistan, the lowest ranked team in a tournament featuring the world’s top eight one-day international (ODI) sides, long been regarded as world cricket’s most “unpredictable” outfit, they have lost all three of their previous knockout matches against India at International Cricket Council tournaments.

“We’ve got nothing to lose--the pressure is more on them (India),” Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood said at the Oval on Friday. “But I can tell you one thing--we have come to win,” the former allrounder, who spent several seasons with Oval-based Surrey, added ahead of Pakistan’s first match of the tournament at the ground. “History can change, and I hope we can (change it).”

The Oval was where, back in 1882, England’s defeat by Australia led to a mock obituary in a newspaper referring to the “ashes” of English cricket and hence the name for all future Anglo-Australian Test series. But few would dispute that India-Pakistan is now the world game’s premier contest--certainly not the ICC who, by their own admission, now fix the draw at their events to ensure the Asian giants meet in the group phase.

“It is massive,” insisted Azhar. “It is bigger than the Ashes--and expectation is high from both nations, crazy about cricket.” Pakistan could make one change if Mohammad Amir, who missed the semi-final with a back spasm, is fit. Yet such was the form of replacement left-arm quick Rumman Raees, who marked his ODI debut with two wickets, it is by no means certain even a fully fit Amir will come straight back into a side that has been well-led by Sarfraz Ahmed, in fine form as both wicketkeeper and batsman.

India, with skipper and star batsman Virat Kohli heading the tournament batting averages with a stratospheric 253, are a formidable outfit. As well as Kohli, their batting lineup boasts the likes of dynamic opening pair of Rohit Sharma, fresh from a hundred against Bangladesh, and Shikhar Dhawan with Yuvraj Singh, former skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Hardik Pandya to come in if needed.

They also have a well-balanced attack, with new-ball bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah supported by contrasting spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and left-armer Ravindra Jadeja, with the like of Kedar Jadhav, as he showed against Bangladesh, also able to chip in with useful wickets. Yet it was at the Oval where India suffered their only defeat of this tournament so far when Sri Lanka chased down a target of 322 to win by seven wickets--and Pakistan’s preference is to bat second.

“The turnaround has been magnificent,” said Kohli of Pakistan’s march to the final. “They’ve beaten sides that looked really strong against them.” But Kohli, understandably confident in his own team added: “I don’t know there’s much that we need to change. If we focus on our skills and our abilities and believe in ourselves, we’ll give ourselves a chance to do some good things for the team.”


Five of the best ODI clashes between the south asian archrivals

1985 Four Nations Cup, Sharjah

Imran Khan trapped opener Ravi Shastri for a golden duck and took career-best figures of 6-14 as world champion India was dismissed for 125. With time to spare, India napped in their dressing room rather than dwell on being humbled, and woke up refreshed. It worked. Javed Miandad, Ashraf Ali and Imran fell for three consecutive ducks, Pakistan slumped to 41-5 and didn’t recover. They were all out, incredibly, for 87.

1986 Austral-Asia Cup, Sharjah

Made to bat first in the final, India posted a reasonable 245, led by Sunil Gavaskar’s 92. Pakistan’s chase was held together by Javed Miandad, who was on 110 off 113 balls when he needed a four to win off the last ball from Chetan Sharma. Miandad anticipated a yorker so stood in front of the crease. The delivery came as a full toss, and Miandad hit it over the deep square leg boundary for six.


2010 Asia Cup, Dambulla 

Chasing 268 to win, India hopes looked over when Mahendra Singh Dhoni left in the 43rd over. But the last over came down to six off five balls. Then Suresh Raina was run out. Harbhajan Singh whiffed at the next two balls and was better at exchanging verbals with fielder Shoaib Akhtar. Three runs to get off two balls. Harbhajan sent the penultimate ball sailing over midwicket and India into the final.

2012 Asia Cup, Mirpur 

A record stand between openers Nasir Jamshed (112) and Mohammad Hafeez (105) set up Pakistan’s 329, then all of it was overshadowed by Virat Kohli. First with Sachin Tendulkar (52) then with Rohit Sharma (68), Kohli batted for almost 47 overs to score 183 off 148 balls, including 22 boundaries. He demolished Pakistan, and India completed their highest successful ODI chase with 17 balls to spare.

2014 Asia Cup, Dhaka

India posted 245. Pakistan reached the last over eight down and 10 runs needed to win. Saeed Ajmal was bowled first ball, and Junaid Khan got off the mark with a single, giving Shahid Afridi the strike against offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin. He slogged the next ball over the deep extra cover boundary, and the next ball over the long on boundary. Two consecutive sixes won the match, and he kissed Khan on the cheek. (AP)

Published: 18-06-2017 09:25

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