Why Pakistan can win the Champions Trophy

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Why Pakistan can win the Champions Trophy

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Rohit George


Pakistan have already exceeded expectations by reaching the Champions Trophy final and one should not be surprised if Sarfaraz Ahmed and his team defy the odds once again to dethrone India in the final. Given the way Pakistan have played so far, here's how they can beat India in the final.

Pakistan came into the ongoing Champions Trophy with the focus predominantly on their opening fixture against India. And as expected, they were hammered by the defending champions in that match. Following the defeat, most expected that it was only a matter of time before Pakistan crashed out of the tournament. However, Sarfaraz Ahmed and his team have defied expectations and turned things around dramatically, making it all the way to the final. Moreover, now that Pakistan are in the final, here is why and how they will win the Champions Trophy:

Pakistan’s bowling prowess will be too much for India to handle:

Pakistan responded to their loss against India by beating one of the tournament favourites, South Africa in their second game. But their win against the Proteas was significant for the fact that their bowlers, led by Hasan Ali, managed to restrict a formidable South African batting line-up to a sub-par score before their batsmen stepped up to the plate to take their side home.  The result set up a virtual quarter-final meeting against Sri Lanka in their final group game. And Pakistan managed to do an encore against the Lankan lions to book their place in the semi-finals of the tournament. Both of Pakistan’s group stage games were down to collective performances with both ball and bat. On the bowling front, Hasan Ali has proven to be Pakistan’s best bowler displaying a maturity beyond his age due to his remarkable ability to reverse swing the ball.

Although not many people had heard of Hasan Ali at the beginning of the tournament, the 23-year old has made a name for himself, by being the tournament's leading wicket-taker, with 10 wickets from 4 matches, heading into today’s final. Hasan Ali has also been ably supported by the likes of Junaid Khan, Iman Wasim, and Fahim Ashraf. Together the trio has done well to keep things tight in the middle overs, which then allows Hasan Ali to make the most of the old ball towards the end of the innings.

Moreover, in all their games so far, the Pakistan bowlers have picked up wickets in bunches that has triggered batting collapses from each of their opponents, with England being the latest victims of this phenomenon in the semi-finals. England found themselves at 128/3 with more than 20 overs to go, before being dismissed for 211 with one ball of their allotted 50 overs still to play. Further, the impending return of Mohammad Amir for the final gives Pakistan a strike bowler against India today. Amir’s return means that Pakistan now have bowlers who can take wickets with both the new ball as well the old ball. 

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Also, the Indian middle order has not been really tested coming into the final, owing to the incredible form of the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli. Although the Indian middle-order was exposed in the game against Sri Lanka, they are yet to come up against a pace attack like the one Pakistan possess. Though the Indians tore into the Pakistan bowling in their group game, they are guaranteed to face a different proposition when they face them in the final. In the form of Hasan Ali, Pakistan have two bowlers who can reverse swing the ball and that is something that India have not faced coming into the final.   

Pakistan’s successful chases in the build-up to the final:

On the batting front, Pakistan have found a formidable opening pair in the form of Azhar Ali and Fakhar Zaman. The duo have got their side off to good starts in two out the three games they have played together, notching up a half-century partnership against South Africa and an 118-run opening stand in the game against England in the semi-final. More importantly, the way Azhar and Fakhar have complemented each other has worked really well for Pakistan. The duo seems to have a well-defined role for themselves at the top of the order. While Azhar has played the role of the anchor at the top of the order, Fakhar has gone after the bowling from the word go and ensured that the batsmen who come in after them are given a platform.

 © espncricinfo

Even if the Pakistan opening batsmen fail them on the day, they still have enough talent in their middle-order to bail them out of trouble. Babbar Azam, for instance, has already shown glimpses of his potential by scoring 1409 runs from 30 ODI's so far. The 22-year old boasts an average of 54.19 so far in his career at an impressive strike rate of 88.56. Although Azam is yet to come good in the tournament so far, today could be the day he proves himself on the biggest stage of them all. Azam is followed by two of the most experienced members in the Pakistan side in the form of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Both Hafeez and Mallik have precious previous experience of playing against India, especially on the big stage. And their mere presence is certain to calm a few nerves in the otherwise inexperienced Pakistan side. Finally, Sarfaraz Ahmed rounds off the batting lineup, but as he showed in the must-win game against Sri Lanka with a match-winning knock of 61*, he is certainly capable of leading by example when it comes to batting.

Pakistan's improved efforts in the field

Despite their bowling prowess and the unquestionable talent in their batting, the one area that Pakistan would always have to work on was their fielding. And this was point was reinforced by their poor efforts in the field against India. In fact, the dropped catches of Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli essentially cost Pakistan the game as the Indian duo made the most of their respective second chances to power India to a mammoth total. However, to Pakistan's credit, their standards in the field have drastically improved since the last time they faced India. In the games that followed, the fielders have held onto all the catches that have come their way, as seen in the semi-final against England and this will certainly hold them in good stead in the final, if not decide the fate of the final itself.

Pakistan have momentum on their side

The other important thing that Pakistan have going in their favour is winning momentum. Ever since losing their first game against India, Sarfaraz Ahmed and his team have put together an incredible run. Not only have they beaten two of the tournament favourites in the form of South Africa and England en route to the final, they have also made the most of the fact that they have been the underdogs for the tournament. And they will once again be the underdogs for the final against India, but if their performances in the tournament are anything to go by, they shouldn't be too bothered about tags.

Finally, given that Pakistan have successfully chased down totals in games on the way to the final, they would certainly look to bowl first if they win the toss. However, even if that does not happen Pakistan shouldn't be too bothered as their batsmen are capable of putting up a decent score on the board. In a way, Pakistan's batsmen just have to ensure that they give their bowlers something to bowl at, once that happens they can be rest assured that their bowlers will certainly be able to restrict the Indian batsmen from reaching the target, given that they have done the same to two of the best batting line-ups already in the form of South Africa and England.

All said and done, Pakistan have already defied expectations to make it to the final of the Champions Trophy and will look all set to rewrite the history books by beating India in the final today. 

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