LONDON: What India will likely bring to the Champions Trophy final isn’t in doubt.
What Pakistan will bring is in doubt, and there’s the intrigue about the showdown on Sunday at The Oval.
Cricket’s biggest rivalry has become a bit of a dud. India has won all of their matchups in global tournaments for the last five years, including two weeks ago on the Trophy’s opening weekend. India won by 124 runs, its seventh win out of 10 one-day internationals since 2010.
The final is India’s fourth in the last eight global tournaments. The Indians are the defending champions; powerful, purring and perpetual.
“Boring,” captain Virat Kohli says. He adds, “I don’t know there’s much that we need to change as a team.”
He’s right. Their top three batsmen believe they can chase down anything: Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma lead the tournament scoring list and Kohli is fifth.
Star spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja no longer dominate the bowling attack but share the load with pacemen Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, who boast economies of 4 plus.
Apart from being chased down by Sri Lanka, India’s only issue in the tournament has been reports of a rift between Kohli and coach Anil Kumble. Kohli has denied it, and showed how much he’s been bothered by it by losing his wicket only once in four innings.
Their lineup is settled, with options, and all about execution.
“What we are going to try to do is repeat the cricket that we have played so far,” Kohli says. “It doesn’t matter whether we win by nine wickets or one wicket.”
Pakistan envies that consistency and confidence.
The last team to qualify for the Champions Trophy still charts a path that resembles a heartbeat on a monitor. After losing to India in the opener, it squeezed South Africa, hung on to edge Sri Lanka, then crushed title favorite England in the semifinals to reach its first Trophy final.
“We were written off totally, and probably rightly so, after the Indian clash because we were shambolic. We were terrible,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur says. “I’m incredibly proud of how we pulled ourselves off the canvas.”
What impressed Arthur after the India result were the players’ honest appraisals, the sign of a maturity that wasn’t in the side a year ago.
Isolation has made Pakistan’s standards slip in limited-overs cricket, and the team came to the Trophy with low expectations on it. The upside has been the rapid growth of newcomers such as seamer Hasan Ali, the Trophy’s leading wicket-taker with 10, opener Fakhar Zaman – “Batting like a champion,” captain Sarfraz Ahmed says – and medium-pacer Rumman Raees, the injury replacement for Wahab Riaz who took 2-44 on debut against England.
Their confidence will be boosted by the return to fitness of main strike bowler Mohammad Amir, who missed the England match because of back spasms. He bowled in the nets on Friday without problems.
These matchups have traditionally been a contest between India batting and Pakistan bowling. How competitive the final will be seems sure to depend on what extra Pakistan can bring, and whether it will still be enough.
“We’re getting better,” Arthur says. -AP