How and why India will win Champions Trophy final against Pakistan

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How and why India will win Champions Trophy final against Pakistan

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Faizan Qadiri

06/17/2017

Rivalries have always been the very basis on which a sport is able to build its success, be it Ali vs Frazier (Boxing), Brazil vs Argentina (Football), Federer vs Nadal (Tennis) or India vs Pakistan, in their respective sports. When the two great rivals take the field, it a spectacle to behold.

Let us start with the aspects of the game that are cannot be controlled by either team - the weather and the coin toss. The weather is expected to be sunny on the day, but the way the tournament has progressed, one would not be surprised to see some interruptions in play. Despite South Africa crumbling for 191 in the first innings of the last match at Oval, the pitch is still one of the finest in the tournament. The Oval has hosted five games this season and apart from Sri Lanka failing to chase down the Proteas' 300 run target, it has been easy sailings for the team batting second. It would be a huge shock if the captain winning the toss elects to bat first. However, if India are put in to bat first, a score close to 300 should be a very competitive total considering the lack of consistency in Pakistan's batting order. 

Pakistan's struggles against the short ball will haunt them again

Apart from Fakhar Zaman, not many players have shown too much consistency in the top order and it has been on the basis of his attacking opening style that Pakistan were able to grind out results against Sri Lanka and England. But as any Indian fan will attest, cue Virender Sehwag, the Gung-Ho style comes with its own problems. Zaman, like most of his team-mates, has not really been comfortable in dealing with the short balls. He has given the fielders enough chances in the initial parts of his innings, but none of the opponents were able to capitalize on it. That will not be the case with this Indian team. Not only do the Indian bowlers adopt an ultra-attacking approach, there is a clinical edge to the team, that is reminiscent of a certain Australian team from a bygone era. 

 India's bowling lengths against Pakistan  © ICC Champions Trophy

To say that the back of length deliveries have troubled the 'Men in Green' would be a gross understatement. 10 off the 21 wickets that Pakistan have lost in the tournament so far have been as a direct result of balls that have pitched in the back of the length area. This is where Virat Kohli has to make the tough choice of playing with just one spinner. It could be a flip of a coin between Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami - the former on the kind of form he showed before the tournament, while the latter on the sheer amount of talent he possesses. The Indian spin contingent, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, were mere bystanders against Bangladesh who appeared to be headed for a colossal total before Kedar Jadhav stepped into the mix. The 32-year-old could act as an axillary spinner in case a 'Plan B' is required as the data points towards the fact that the inclusion of four pacers would be much more threatening to Pakistan's cause than a second frontline spinner. 

Indian batting prowess will outshine Pakistan

Coming to the Indian batting which has been an absolute rock under so far, with Kedar Jadhav, who was taken into the side as an extra batsman, bowling more deliveries than he actually faced. The trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli have made India tick throughout the tournament with Dhawan, in particular, in inspired form. One of the biggest reasons for their domination has been the fact the openers have averaged an opening partnership of 71 in the series so far, while the first two wickets have averaged an incredible 249. When asked to step up, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni have played their part when India needed some help during the Pakistan and Sri Lanka games respectively.

 © Cricinfo

It has been clear as day where Pakistan's main strength lies. After conceding 319 runs to India in their first game of the Champions Trophy, Pakistan have fought back and have not let any team score above 236 (Sri Lanka) despite playing tournament favorites England and South Africa along the way. However, Pakistan tend to get off to a slow start with their bowling and have claimed just 3 wickets in the first ten overs in their four matches so far. Their strength lies in the middle overs where not only have they claimed 17 off their 26 wickets. And more often than not, Pakistan have broken solid partnerships in the middle overs and claimed quick wickets soon after to breeze through the middle overs. With India, though, they will realize that it is easier said than done, given the talent and experience in the Indian middle order that boasts of 773 ODI appearances in the three spots after the openers. The experienced trio of Kohli, Yuvraj, and Dhoni will negate Pakistan's biggest strength which, on the day, will prove to be the difference between the two sides.

 © Cricinfo

Fielding will see India through

One aspect that has put India on a completely different and higher category in this tournament has been their fielding. One could say India have come this far in the tournament as a result of their fielding performances - be it the two run outs against Sri Lanka that dragged India into the game, or the three run-outs that signaled yet another 'choking' performance by the South Africans. Apart from the obvious impact o the wickets column, the Men in Blue also end up saving double-digit runs which results in even more pressure being built on their opponents.

Pakistan, on the flipside, are not only bad at it, but their running between the wickets is also questionable, to say the least. In the first match between the two, Pakistan dropped both Kohli and Yuvraj which eventually led to their downfall. In their must-win game against Sri Lanka, the latter had at least three run-out opportunities & one straight-forward catch that could have ended Pakistan's Champions Trophy dream in the group stages itself, but they failed every time. India won't let such chances go away.

The X-factor

Something that often gets overlooked in sports are the intangibles that play their own part in any success story. One of the most important things is the capability of teams to handle pressure in crunch moments that results in the game finally leaning in one direction. Experience is not just acquiring over 200 caps for your country, but rather knowing the most effective way of navigating through treacherous waters of a high-profile final. India have that in numbers, with even the likes of Hardik Pandya, who has played just 11 matches for India, having the experience of playing in the Asia Cup final and numerous big matches in the Indian Premier League. For Pakistan, the story is the exact opposite as, since the turn of the decade, this is the first time that they have been able to make it into the final of an ICC event.

This has been a herculean effort by Pakistan to mount such a formidable challenge after the loss to India in the first game, but crossing the final hurdle might just be a step too far for them this time.

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