Champions Trophy 2017 final between Pakistan and India on Sunday at Oval is expected to be watched by more than one billion people — it could be the third-most watched game in cricket history, according to ESPNCricInfo.
Both teams will be well supported on Sunday, when the weather in London is forecast to be dry and sunny. It is Pakistan’s first appearance in a 50-over global final since the 1999 World Cup in England – where they were beaten by Australia – and Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said it would mean a lot to the country if they won. Pakistan have not played a Test match at home since 2009 because of security issues.
The 1992 World Cup winners had the lowest seed of eighth before the event, but Arthur added: “We came here very, very firmly of the opinion that we wanted to come here and win it.” ESPNCricInfo commentator says, ‘Anything is possible with Pakistan.’
How is it that we have got here? It seems surreal. In the age of skirting around stereotypes and upending norms, here comes a contest almost as old as partition itself: Pakistani bowling v Indian batting, and still, though we have all tasted this masala and read some version of this script, it doesn’t feel even slightly hackneyed, not even a little stale.
How could it be? Australia might be the winningest outfit in the game, but are there two prouder cricket nations than India and Pakistan? Close your eyes. Bring to mind the players of yore. Waqar Younis and his yorkers, with tails like comets, making matchsticks out of the stumps; Mohammad Azharuddin, his flicks like brushwork, the ball teleporting through the leg side, reappearing so far into the distance you only knew it had arrived when it thwacked the boundary board. Here is Sachin Tendulkar tapping his bat, so poised, so zen at the crease; there blows Shoaib Akhtar like a hot wind, limbs whipping through that elastic action. An India v Pakistan match is not so much a new chapter in a rivalry, as a clash of cricketing bloodlines.
And an elemental force has each side been in this tournament. India, sleeker now than they have been in previous decades, have overpowered oppositions to get to this final. Not since Australia in the last decade, has an ODI team looked quite so clinical, quite so bristling with purpose. They have a formula about their game too: start steady with the bat, surge through the middle, and finish big. With the ball: strangle up front, make incisions through the middle, and let the opposition innings bleed out. They stand now, muscles rippling, only once – against Sri Lanka – having had to break a sweat.
Pakistan, meanwhile, have been the same old manic vortex: awful sometimes, amazing at others, transitioning from one to the other between matches, or within the same over – who knows how the mood will strike? While India are a knowable, quantifiable outfit, Pakistan’s strength is their imperviousness to any kind of rational breaking down of their game. How can you plan against that?
Still, it is Pakistan who will have to spring the surprise here. They are the team that has to make the charge on Minas Tirith. It is up to them to gird up their strike power for the raid on the Death Star.
At these global events, they have long been the race-car that goes from zero to a hundred quicker than anyone else, it’s just that sometimes, that is while tumbling off a side of a cliff.
In the spotlight
No one has quite lived out India’s dominance in the Champions Trophy, nor their appetite for the big events, like Shikhar Dhawan, whose 317 runs at an average of 79.25 (and a strike rate of 102), places him at the top of the run scorers’ list. Much like with his team, there is a brooding confidence in Dhawan’s game at the moment. He is resplendently unflustered by slow starts, backing himself to score quickly later on. So well-placed is India when he typically departs, that it’s not just that he has laid the foundation, he has helped complete most of the building. All that remains for the likes of MS Dhoni to do is stick a spire on the top, and run the flag up the pole.
And who better embodies the campaign of what was the eighth-ranked team in the tournament than the man who was thought to be only the fourth-best quick in the squad. Hasan Ali has a hint of the old Pakistan sorcery about his bowling: the lachak in his approach, the theatrical celebration, the wisps of reverse swing. With ten victims at an average of 17.20, and a wonderful economy rate of 4.52, he has the potential to be the pebble that jams up India’s cogs, and brings the machinery tumbling down.
R Ashwin was seen with a heavily-taped right knee on the eve of the match, and had appeared to pull a muscle. He required the physiotherapist’s attention and was then seen doing short run ups followed by stretches later. If he is ruled unfit, Umesh Yadav, who took 3 for 30 in the opening match against Pakistan, may slot back into the XI. Such is the quality in India’s squad, that they can lose a player of Ashwin’s stature and still not be too badly dented by it.
India (possible) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 R Ashwin/Umesh Yadav,10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Mohammad Amir has been ruled fit after missing the semi-final with a back spasm, meaning Rumman Raees is likely to exit the XI, despite his excellent debut.
Pakistan (possible) 1 Azhar Ali, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Mohammad Amir, 9 Shadab Khan, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Junaid Khan
Pitch and conditions
A fresh pitch is being used for the match and appears mostly dry, so perhaps the track will favour batsmen and scores in excess of 300 are likely. The forecast is for a slightly cloudy, but mostly dry day, with temperatures reaching the high twenties.
Stats and trivia
Although Pakistan have an overall lead in the head-to-head stakes, having won 72 matches to India’s 52, they have lost eight of the 10 matches the teams have played in global tournaments.
India have scored 1098 runs at a per-batsman average of 91.50 in the tournament, which makes them by a distance the best batting side on show. The next-best average is England’s 41.11
Pakistan’s 31 wickets are the most taken by any team in the Champions Trophy. Since that opening loss to India, they have taken 28 wickets at 23.78 and maintained an economy rate of 4.46.
Three of India’s top-five average higher than 43 against Pakistan – Rohit Sharma (37.90) is the lone exception.
Junaid Khan has taken eight wickets at an average of 21.50 in five matches against India. He has dismissed Kohli three times, and conceded only two runs to him.
“I don’t see any relevance of the first game here because you can never tell how a particular team starts a tournament. Some teams start very confidently and then they fade off. Some teams might not have the best starts, and they come back amazingly, which Pakistan have done. So everyone is aware of the kind of talent they have in their team, and on their day they can beat any side in the world.”
India captain Virat Kohli
“I said before the Edgbaston game [against India], that I thought they were really, really calm. But they’re very, very excited now, and there’s a hell of a good vibe in that dressing room. Let’s hope we can pull out our ‘A’ game again tomorrow. If we play our ‘A’ game together and do the basics well, we can beat anybody.”
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur