So it has arrived. The 'Mother of All Contests'. That too in the final of a showpiece event like the Champions Trophy. Though India and Pakistan have not been playing bilateral series for some time now, the arch-rivals would end up facing each other twice in almost two weeks. And it was not something that could have been predicted. But they say, cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties.
Pakistan were at the receiving end of a massive loss to India in the group stage. Sarfraz Ahmed's side did not evoke a lot of confidence. Was Pakistan cricket dead, people wondered.
And then Pakistan, being Pakistan, became Pakistan, and punched above their weight — and then some more. Soon they left the loss to India behind and emerged a force to reckon with. Many of us, who had written Pakistan off after the first game, were both amused and bemused — was this the same team, or did we doze off for a very, very long time and wake up in a parallel universe in which Pakistan were a powerful unit?
The fact is, Pakistan have shaken up a tournament which was going according to the script, and have come in the way of a predictable India versus England final and now are only a game away from their maiden Champions Trophy title.
However, it surely won’t be a cakewalk against the Indian side, who have been playing “boring” yet clinical cricket throughout the tournament.
But what one rest assured that, whatever Pakistan do against any other team, against India, and at the final of a global event, Pakistan would bring their A-game to the plate. And such is the nature of cricket that it tests your mental well-being and exposes it pretty glaringly, if you can’t handle the big stage.
Pakistan, though, would need to fight their own demons first, and then work out on how to beat India.
For both teams, it would very well come down to individual brilliance of the players, whose performance could make all the difference in this marquee contest.
Here are some of the key encounters involving players from both teams that would determine who would have the final laugh in this epic clash:
Rohit Sharma vs Mohammad Amir
If anyone saw the group game between India and Pakistan on 4 June, they would know how important this battle is — one between India’s premier ODI batsman and Pakistan’s best bowler.
Rohit Sharma was initially very tentative against Mohammad Amir, and it was a missed half-chance at slip that settled his nerves that day.
Even when India had faced Pakistan previously with Amir in their playing eleven, Rohit had had some problems against Amir, having been dismissed by him for a duck in the Asia Cup last year.
For Amir too, the encounter is pretty important as he is recovering from an injury, and getting the big wicket of Rohit cheaply would surely help him calm his nerves and return to his best.
Rohit too, would be looking to win this key battle against Amir. Having scored a hundred in the semi-final against Bangladesh, the Mumbai batsman looks all ready for the summit clash.
Virat Kohli vs Junaid Khan
Virat Kohli facing Junaid Khan would be THE moment of the game and it is arguably the clash that could decide the match.
For the uninitiated, the Kohli-Junaid rivalry has some historical context attached to it as well. Kohli has been Junaid’s bunny in the past — having been dismissed three times in three ODIs by the Pakistani pacer during the 2012 India-Pakistan series.
While both players have come a long way since then, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that these things do play on one’s mind sometimes. And this is where Junaid, who has performed so well so far, could have an advantage over Kohli.
However, such has been Kohli’s form in the past two-three years, particularly in ODIs, it wouldn’t be very surprising if Kohli conjures up another of his masterclass innings to decimate whatever advantage Junaid had had over him in the past.
Fakhar Zaman vs Bhuvneshwar Kumar
A big chunk of Pakistan’s resurgence in the Champions Trophy can be attributed to their bowlers. However, it would be a travesty to deny this young man from Pakistan his share of credit.
His inclusion has added the spark and aggression that was missing in Pakistan’s top order, which now looks much more settled.
It would be, therefore, pivotal from India’s point of view to get him out early, and for that they can rely on Bhuveshwar Kumar.
Fakhar has so far shown a liking for pace bowling, although he has been not yet been tested against swing. This could mean that he might not face many problems against Jasprit Bumrah, who is not an out and out swing bowler.
Bhuvneshwar, therefore, should be India’s best bet if they plan to restrict this left-hander to a paltry score.
Yuvraj Singh vs Hasan Ali
If we go by the recent matches in this edition of the Champions Trophy, most games have been decided in the middle overs. This is the time when the teams boost themselves to a 330-plus score, while some other teams like Pakistan have often make their way back into the game thanks to their bowlers picking up crucial wickets.
Therefore, the clash between Pakistan’s latest fast bowling talent Hasan Ali and veteran India batsman Yuvraj Singh becomes all the more important.
Ali, has been bowling in the middle overs for Pakistan so far and would most likely come up against Yuvraj. The Indian southpaw's relative weakness against reverse swing; something which Wahab Riaz used to his benefit in 2011 World Cup semi-final, could come into play again.
Yuvraj has been in good nick in this tournament and had taken a liking to Pakistan’s bowling the last time the two teams played, hitting a half-century off 29 balls . Much has changed since then, Ali’s bowling being one of them.
This would be the clash of the old vs the new — Yuvraj, who first made his name as a 18-year-old in the ICC Knockout Tournament in 2000, would look to overcome Ali, who like Yuvraj, has become a household name with his performance in a major tournament at a young age.
The two contestants are pretty well matched and the result of that contest can be a key factor in deciding the final outcome of the match.
Sarfraz Ahmed vs Ravichandran Ashwin
Another batsman from Pakistan who could take an attacking approach against the Indians could be captain Sarfraz Ahmed. He took his team home against Sri Lanka in a tense match, bringing his calmness to the fore. Sarfraz has brought the fighting spirit back in this Pakistani team, a proof of which was their resounding win against England in the semi-final.
On the other hand, Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s best bowler across formats not so long ago, is still warming up to the occasion of the Champions Trophy, having just played a couple of matches – against South Africa and Bangladesh.
Although he didn’t get a bunch of wickets against South Africa, Ashwin was instrumental in choking the Proteas with his tight lines and variations of speed. Against Bangladesh in the semi-final, Ashwin was a touch expensive, going for 54 runs in 10 overs, without getting a wicket.
If Ashwin plays the final on Sunday, he will be a key player in India's defence of their title.
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Updated Date: Jun 17, 2017 21:04:25 IST