India favourites to win Champions Trophy final
With cricket embroiled in corruption allegations and the national team supposedly in transition, India arrived at the ICC Champions Trophy as the world's top-ranked one-day side but with few giving them a chance.
However, just like Italy's football team emerged from adversity and scandal at home to win World Cups in 1982 and 2006, India's new-look class of 2013 is proving a resilient bunch.
Heading into Sunday's final against hosts England, India have won four from four, their bowlers have come to relish unfamiliar English conditions, and opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan has become the star of the tournament.
The era of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag will long be revered but their replacements have signalled over the past two weeks that the future can be bright without them.
Only three players – Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and captain MS Dhoni – played in India's victory over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in 2011 and will likely turn out against England at Edgbaston, but the inexperience is not showing.
"If we can bowl to our field and play to our strengths, we will do well against any team," India paceman Ishant Sharma said. "We have not been under pressure in this tournament so far and we really don't know where our real weaknesses lie.
"We'll stick to the plans and we'll stick to our strengths, just carry on doing the same thing in the final."
While India have been playing against the backdrop of a spot-fixing scandal involving players and officials in the Indian Premier League, England's Champions Trophy campaign is being seen by their supporters as merely a taster ahead of the real business of this summer – the Ashes series.
At least in public, England's players are not seeing it that way. Their team has never won a world 50-over event, having lost in the finals of both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy over the past two decades. The Ashes can wait for one more weekend.
"The past is the past, and we can't change anything about it. So there is no point worrying about it," said England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. "This is a great chance to right those wrongs."
If the hosts are to end their 50-over tournament drought, they will need a brilliant bowling performance from James Anderson and Co in Birmingham.
Dhawan has emerged from the shadows of Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and been a revelation, scoring a tournament-high 332 runs in four innings. That included centuries in group matches against South Africa and West Indies and a 68 in the semi-final victory over Sri Lanka on Thursday.
Light on his feet and punishing anything outside off stump, the left-handed Dhawan has played with a swagger to thrill Indian fans who will be at Edgbaston en masse on Sunday. Even if he fails with Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Raina and Dhoni to come in the batting line-up, India will not be overly concerned.
In the absence of Kevin Pietersen, England have not been as fluent with the bat – the team has yet to reach 300 – but Jonathan Trott is the third highest run-scorer in the tournament and is always a steady influence at No 3, despite his critics in the English media.
"I think the most important thing is winning cricket matches – that's all I try and do, be part of a winning team," said Trott. "The England team as long as I've been playing, nearly four years, has been on an upwards angle and I'm really happy to see that.
"Hopefully we can start winning trophies, here on Sunday and at the World Cup, maybe."
England's bowlers have been getting more movement with the ball than any other team in this tournament but India's attack has not been far behind.
Ishant, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav have been disciplined and bowled a good length, all the time being ably assisted by spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. Even Dhoni had a bowl himself. England may be at home but India have steamrollered all challengers, and will be able to count on huge support.
It adds up to India being the favourites to claim the Champions Trophy and cement their position as the kings of one-day cricket.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE
Updated: June 22, 2013 04:00 AM