New Delhi/Cricket Special: Sunday will be a unique day in the sports history of India and Pakistan. While the cricket teams will battle in the final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy at The Oval, the arch-rivals will also clash at the Olympic Park in a match of the FIH World Hockey League semi-finals.
When India began their Champions Trophy campaign against Pakistan at Edgbaston on June 4, there were two different schools of thought about the prospects of the two sides.
One half expected India, the defending champions, to make it all the way to the final, while the other half gave eighth-ranked Pakistan not even a ghost of a chance.
The Indian captain said that game would not have any relevance and praised the Pakistan team for reaching the final.
“Pakistan can beat anyone on their day, everyone is aware the kind of talent and ability they have,” said Kohli.
But both cricket and hockey will be in their respective realms as focus and composure will be the key factors on Sunday as Pakistan eye their maiden Champions Trophy win and India their third.
This year’s Champions Trophy has seen several twists and turns. Three Asian teams making the last four of the tournament that brings the best eight ODI teams in the world is a huge statement of the sub-continent’s domination.
If defending champions India were one of the fancied sides, Pakistan’s amazing turnaround in the tournament has been an eye-opener.
This is the first time India and Pakistan will clash in the Champions Trophy final, and in the circumstances, there will be no favourites.
Pakistan, who have never been in the final of a Champions Trophy, came in as the lowest ranked side. No one gave them a chance after India walloped them by 124 runs in their opening group B fixture in Birmingham on June 4.
But then calculations went haywire in both groups.
South Africa, the world’s No. 1 ODI team, former champions Australia and dark horses New Zealand failed to cross the group stage.
Pakistan stunned favourites England by eight wickets in the semi-final at Cardiff and India blew away Bangladesh by nine wickets at Edgbaston to set up a dream final that is sending the ICC and the host broadcasters laughing all the way to the bank.
After being on the road to London from Birmingham on Friday, India were back at the nets on Saturday morning.
Under a blazing sun, Virat Kohli’s men spent an intense three hours breaking sweat. A lot of that training was dominated by fitness drills.
The set-pieces will be significant in terms of the match on Sunday. Irrespective of the teams, both batsmen and bowlers will have to eschew flamboyance and build a pace that will be ensuring solidity throughout the 100 overs.
Amir fit to play
Pakistan’s bowlers, particularly left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir is fit to play the Champions Trophy final. He is perfectly capable of the banana swing, although the white ball hasn’t swung much in UK.
But the reverse swing and cutters will come into play and Hasan Ali, Pakistan’s ‘bombshell’ seamer, will be the man that India’s top order needs to play well.
India are unlikely to change the playing XI that hammered South Africa and Bangladesh in back-to-back matches.
With a taped right knee, there is slight doubt on Ravichandran Ashwin’s full fitness but India will need him against a team that has specialist left-handed batsmen. If Ashwin misses the final, pacer Umesh Yadav should be back.
Pakistan will be targeting India’s top three batsmen for sure. Although Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli have scored buckets of runs they will treat the Pakistan attack with respect. Early wickets will expose the middle order which has not been tested.
But Virat Kohli is nonchalant. “The middle order is waiting for an opportunity to strike and guys like Hardik Pandya can produce that match-winning performance on a big day,” said the skipper.
The IPL factor
On hindsight, the IPL seems to have done a world of good to the Indian players. The entire team is used to playing pressure games and the squad looked in a comfort zone of another world final.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said his players were “excited” for the final match and the mood in the dressing room is upbeat.
“The loss against India in Birmingham was an aberration. We have trained hard for this tournament and if we have beaten England, I am not surprised.
The young team has no fear of losing and we are backing ourselves in the final,” said the South African with vast coaching experience.
India may be the form team but this Pakistan team is a galvanised lot under an intelligent captain Sarfraz Ahmed.
The wicket-keeper batsman is unlike a boisterous Shahid Afridi and wants his team to do all the talking with its batting, bowling and fielding.
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