“I'm looking around in the guys' eyes and I know they're ready.” -Photo by AFP
BIRMINGHAM: Reigning World Cup holders India clash with hosts England in an intriguing Champions Trophy one-day final on Sunday that promises to be a thriller.
The sold-out game at Edgbaston will please organisers and fans alike as a finale to what has been billed as the last edition of the eight-nation tournament before it is replaced by a Test championship in 2017.
The final, worth $2 million to the winners and $1 million to the runners-up, will be contested by teams who've justified their status as the top-ranked one-day sides in the world.
India, winners of the World Cup at home in 2011, proved worthy of their number one ranking by cruising to the final with four straight wins -- the last three by emphatic eight-wicket margins.
Second-ranked England, looking for their first major one-day title, made it to the final with three wins out of four, including a seven-wicket defeat of South Africa in the semi-final at the Oval in London.
Few would hazard to predict the outcome of the dream final between a young and ruthless Indian side and a typically gritty England in front of boisterous supporters from both sides.
If the weather holds -- light rain has been forecast for Sunday -- a classic contest in in store between India's batting firepower and the crafty seam and spin attack of the hosts.
Left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan has taken the tournament by storm with 332 runs in four matches at an average of 110.66, making him the competition's leading scorer.
Dhawan's scores of 114, 102 not out, 48 and 68, which leave him a strong contender for the player of the tournament award, and valuable opening stands with Rohit Sharma have boosted India at the top of the order.
Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja has been the pick of the bowlers with 10 wickets -- joint-second in the tournament with England spearhead James Anderson behind New Zealander Mitchell McClenaghan's 11 scalps.
Jadeja and fellow-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin have been backed admirably by the three-pronged seam attack of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav in containing opposition batsmen.
“We have played with the consistency and passion we wanted to at the start of the tournament,” delighted India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said.
“But the final will always be a huge challenge.”
England, who begin an eagerly-anticipated Ashes series against Australia next month, will be desperate to bag a major one-day international (ODI) title after suffering defeats in three World Cup finals in 1979, 1987 and 1992, as well as losing the 2004 Champions Trophy final to the West Indies at the Oval.
Captain Alastair Cook believes his side has what it takes to get over the line this time.
“Yeah, it's something which is obviously on our radar. One of our major goals this summer was to try and win the Champions Trophy. Not only will it break that duck of 38 years but also prepare well for the World Cup, as well, if you're looking long-term. It's a big day tomorrow, and we're going to hopefully gain a lot from it if we can play well.
“All I can say is the lads in the last two games under pressure delivered two excellent performances. I can't say no reason why we can't do it tomorrow. I'm looking around in the guys' eyes and I know they're ready; they’re ready to play.”
Their batting revolves around skipper Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, who has answered critics of his perceived slow scoring in the ODI game by emerging as England's highest run-getter in the tournament with 209 runs.
But the hosts' hopes will rest on how well the brilliant Anderson and his new-ball partners, Stuart Broad and Steven Finn, are able to contain the Indian batting.
Off-spinner James Tredwell, whose three for 19 in seven overs wrecked South Africa in the semi-final and won him the man-of-the-match award, has ensured England do not miss the injured Graeme Swann.
England have lost eight of their last 10 one-day internationals against Dhoni's men, but all of them were on Indian soil.
When India last played in England in 2011, they were not only blanked 4-0 in the Test series, but lost the one-dayers 3-0. A World Cup game in Bangalore in 2011 between the two sides ended in a sensational tie.