Your essential guide to the Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan at the Oval on Sunday.
As if the first match between cricket’s, nay sport’s, greatest rivals wasn’t enough of a spectacle, now we’re being treated to round two. India vs Pakistan, a contest embedded in deep-seated political conflict which has been transferred on to the cricket field, is usually watched by over a billion people. Expect record figures this time, for it’s the first time these sides are meeting in the final of a 50-over global event.
The only thing that’s been missing from this rivalry in recent years is competitiveness. When India thrashed Pakistan by 124 runs DL method in their Champions Trophy opener, it was the seventh-consecutive time that India had defeated their opponents in a major tournament. But Pakistan are a different side to the one that lost that match a fortnight ago. Since then, they’ve gone on to defeat the Proteas – albeit with rain helping them along – before edging out Sri Lanka, thanks to a record eighth-wicket stand between Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir. While they did the bare minimum to make it through to the semi-finals, they destroyed tournament favourites England, as they bowled them out for 216 before going on to win by eight wickets.
A lot of pressure was shifted to former Proteas coach Mickey Arthur after that first game against India, and he seemingly had no answers to the barrage of questions that was thrown at him. The questions have been answered on the pitch, and who knows what the unpredictable side might be able to serve up against a rampant Indian side.
India’s only blip came in their seven-wicket loss to Sri Lanka. Apart from that they’ve destroyed teams with their batting. They occupy three of the top five batting spots, while MS Dhoni has only needed to bat once in this whole tournament. What it does suggest, however, is that bowling first is crucial. Between the two sides in this event, only one match has been won by batting first, and that was in their fixture in Birmingham. One feels that winning the toss will be absolutely crucial for Pakistan, who will look to make the most of their strong bowling attack early on.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Virat Kohli – There’s a relentless, burning desire in Kohl’s eyes to win this tournament. When Kedar Jadhav took the wicket of Bangladesh’s Tamim Iqbal, which broke the 123-run stand between him and Mushfiqur Rahim, he ran halfway across the field like a madman in almost Tahir-esque fashion. When he brought up his fifty – his third in four innings – he celebrated as if he’d just raised his bat for the first time. Dhawan and Sharma lead the run-charts, but Kohli’s in the mix at number five, with 253 runs at the same average. Three of his knocks have been not out, proving once again why he’s regarded as the best finisher, if not the best batsman, in the world.
Fakhar Zaman – Zaman started the tournament on the bench. Now he’s his side’s most important batsman. It’s been an incredible rise for a player who made his debut against the Proteas. Coming into that match with a List-A average of 50 and a strike rate in the mid-90s, he proceeded to blast Wayne Parnell and Kagiso Rabada to all parts, scoring 31 off just 23 balls. He’s followed that up with back-to-back fifties against Sri Lanka and England, all at a terrifying rate. He’s the spark in the top order that was so desperately lacking in Pakistan’s ranks. He’s going to be equally fearless against India.
I would be extremely surprised if India tried something different at this stage. The only temptation would be to bring in an extra seamer in place of Ravichandran Ashwin, but they’re not going to mess with a formula that’s worked.
Pakistan will be holding thumbs for Mohammad Amir’s return. He suffered a back spasm in the lead-up to the semi-final and had to sit out. While they got along just fine without him, he’s a huge asset to their side in an already strong bowling line-up.
INDIA: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah
PAKISTAN: Fakhar Zaman, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Junaid Khan
- India have won all six World Cup matches and four of the five World T20 matches they’ve played against Pakistan, but its 2-2 in the Champions Trophy.
- In 59 ODIs played between the sides, Pakistan actually have the upper hand, with 72 wins compared to India’s 52. Four have been no results.
- The stats in this tournament reflect where each team’s strengths lie. India openers Shikhar Dhawan (317) and Rohit Sharma (304) occupy the top-two batting spots in the run-charts, while Pakistan’s Hasan Ali sits atop the wicket-taking charts with 10 wickets. Junked Khan is in fourth with seven wickets.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur on Pakistan’s strengths: ‘We’ve got to try and make that new ball really work for us. We’ve got to try and get into them.’
Virat Kohli on his patient approach: ‘I wanted to give myself some time, 10-15 balls.’
Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood confirms the good news: ‘Amir bowled today. Amir is fit.’
Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images