Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 January 2020

Champions Trophy final: India and Pakistan chase the dream at The Oval

Dileep Premachandran writes that the team who win the toss may elect to field, and this match may come down to India’s bowlers and Pakistan’s batsmen.
India's captain Virat Kohli, right, and Pakistan's captain Sarfraz Ahmed pose for a picture with the trophy at the Oval cricket ground in London, Saturday June 17, 2017. AP Photo
India's captain Virat Kohli, right, and Pakistan's captain Sarfraz Ahmed pose for a picture with the trophy at the Oval cricket ground in London, Saturday June 17, 2017. AP Photo

Only four of the 22 set to take the field at The Oval for the Champions Trophy final today were present the last time Pakistan beat India at an ICC event.

At the Champions Trophy in South Africa in 2009, Shoaib Malik made 128 (off 126 balls) and Mohammed Amir took two for 46 as Pakistan prevailed by 54 runs.

Virat Kohli made 16 and MS Dhoni scored just three as India’s pursuit of 303 ran aground after a promising start.

That victory, like the one in the 2004 Champions Trophy at Edgbaston, is seen as an aberration in a rather bizarre rivalry.

Pakistan lead 72-52 in the head-to-head stakes, but in the ICC events, it is 8-2 to India.

No matter how well Pakistan play against other sides, they seem to lose the mental battle even before they step on to the turf against India.

India’s selection today will be heavily influenced by past events. In the group game, they left out Ravichandran Ashwin and played with an extra fast bowler.

Since then, after The Oval defeat to Sri Lanka, Ashwin has replaced Umesh Yadav, who was excellent in the crushing victory over Pakistan.

Normally, you would expect the team management to go back to that template, with Pakistan’s batsmen considered more adept against the turning ball.

But there’s a new X-factor within the Pakistan ranks that India will consider before picking their side.

Fakhar Zaman, 27 years old and born in Mardan – birthplace of the recently retired Younis Khan – has flayed 138 runs from 117 balls since he replaced the pedestrian Ahmed Shehzad at the top of the order.

Whether it was South Africa’s potent pace attack or Lasith Malinga, Fakhar has shown no respect.

Umesh is a wicket-taker, as 91 wickets from 65 ODIs would attest, but he can also leak runs.

Ashwin was not at his best against Bangladesh, prompting Virat Kohli to turn to Kedar Jadhav’s low-arm slingshots, but he is someone adept at bowling with the new or newish ball should he be required to do so.

Both Umesh and Ashwin have performed better against Pakistan than against most other sides, and that leaves Kohli with an interesting conundrum ahead of the game.

Much has been made of the contest between India’s magnificent top three and Pakistan’s threatening pace attack.

But the key to the match could well be the other tussle, between the Indian bowlers and Pakistan’s batsmen, who were so awful in the opening-game loss.

Given what has happened so far in the competition, conventional wisdom would suggest that the team winning the toss would opt to chase a target, especially at a venue where Sri Lanka overhauled a huge Indian total with consummate ease.

But in a big final, India would probably do well to bat first if they get the opportunity.

Their batsmen are in prime form, and any total in excess of 300 would heap the pressure on a Pakistan side well aware of their frailty against India in the big games.

Most of all though, it will, as Kohli has kept repeating, come down to who can keep the coolest heads. India’s captain is Mr Animated on the field – just go through the range of expressions shown against Bangladesh – but he does not let that aggression and intensity come in the way of his decision-making.

He has learned to shelve his ego with the bat, and the team he leads is not known to press the panic button in tough situations.

In each of the three global finals he has played, Kohli has made a decisive contribution.

The bigger the game, the more switched on he seems to be.

If, and it is a big if, Pakistan can decapitate the snake – to use Nathan Lyon speak – they have half a chance.

If Kohli gets going, India’s domination in the bragging-rights games will continue.


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Updated: June 17, 2017 04:00 AM