India vs Pakistan: Virat Kohli and Co, superior to arch-rivals in every aspect, are rank favourites in final
The only thing going for Pakistan is that they have lost so often to India and expectation levels are at an all-time low, that they can go out and play fearless cricket.
The heat is on, always, during India-Pakistan cricket matches. It does not matter if they are held in the desert sands of Sharjah or the cool climes of England, India vs Pakistan matches are invariably hotly-contested affairs where passions on and off the field run amok.
Even when the margin of victory is comfortable or huge, as is the case most of the time, the matches continue to be nail-biting for the supporters!
In the last two Champions Trophy matches in Birmingham in 2013 and Edgbaston in 2017 India won by eight wickets and 124 runs respectively. Nevertheless the atmosphere was supercharged and every run taken or averted was wildly cheered by respective supporters.
It is for this reason that India-Pakistan cricket matches are a dream come true for host television channel, ICC, the host country, advertisers, hotels, airlines, transport companies, memorabilia vendors and of course rival cricket boards,
In fact, the broke Pakistan Cricket Board is desperate to host India anywhere in the world. It knows that these matches are its sure-fire passage to riches. The BCCI, of course, has refused to play ball, leaving it instead to the Government of India to decide whether or not to play bilateral series against Pakistan.
The lack of finances and exposure to top class cricket has hurt Pakistan very badly. Although they continue to produce world class bowlers, in particular, and batsmen, the lack of adequate matches at the junior and ‘A’ levels has affected player development in terms of skill and temperament.
India, on the other hand, have a robust domestic league which tops off with the prized IPL. The finest thing about IPL is the exposure of young Indian cricketers to the best of international coaches, players, training methods, fitness levels, diet and sundry attitudes and approach to various tasks. This has certainly rubbed off on many of them and fast-tracked their development.
In addition the BCCI also invests heavily in the National Cricket Academy, exposure tours for India ‘A’ and Under-19 players and of course wide-spread talent scouting. The best of players from small towns and cities also have terrific role models to follow in most cases and this rubs off very positively in the all-round development of the cricketers.
This is most evident in the current team where the likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, MS Dhoni and all the others have come through the system; some from the junior ranks and others because of excellent talent scouting.
The biggest gain from all these, outside of temperament and playing under pressure, has actually been felt in fitness and fielding standards. Barring two or three players — Ashwin, Kedar Jadhav and Yuvraj come to mind — the others are all super fit, athletic and excellent fielders. This is a far cry from Indian teams of the past where fielding was generally pedestrian and fitness levels suspect.
In essence, Indian cricket has gone from strength to strength with the players showing a remarkable propensity to improve. The best example is Jadeja. When he came on to the national team he was only a good fielder and was constantly harangued for his limited bowling and batting skills. But over the past two to three years his improvement has been nothing short of spectacular. He has worked hard on his cricket and is now a certainty in any form of the game.
Likewise, Bhuvneshwar, Shikhar Dhawan, Umesh Yadav and Kohli, have substantially developed to become world beaters. Kohli is ruthless and drives himself and others to constantly seek ways to get better at their game.
In contrast, Pakistan cricket has stagnated and even slipped a notch or two all round. Of course Pakistan’s bowling has always been competitive. They have been unearthing good fast bowlers with the monotony of the West Indies teams of the past. The left-arm pacer Mohammed Amir is a cut above the rest and may be the only current bowler who could have got into Pakistan’s famous bowling equations of the past.
The others, including the highly energetic Hasan Ali, could be competent but the team’s bug bear would be fielding. Compared to the Indian team their fielders look like amateurs.
Likewise not a single present day batsman would have got into Pakistan teams of the past. The only thing going for them is that they have lost so often to India and expectation levels are at an all-time low, that they can go out and play fearless cricket. Who knows, a few vigorous and bold strokes from a couple of batsmen might well turn out to be the impetus they need to put the pressure right back on India.
But other things being equal, Pakistan will be outclassed yet again.
Even as tensions between India and Pakistan continue to dominate headlines, cricketers from this side of the border won plaudits for their heartwarming display of camaraderie during the Champions Trophy final on Sunday.
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