- Behind this surge is the rise in the scores of these two batsmen. Zaman has struck 31, 50, and 57 and Azhar has made 9, 34, 76. The two, however, will be up against the most potent pace attack in the history of Indian cricket.
- Pakistan have beaten India twice in ICC tournaments, both times in the Champions Trophy in 2004 and 2009. They have met India six times across limited-overs formats in ICC tournaments since their 2009 triumph, losing every time.
London will be painted green and blue come Sunday in anticipation for one of the biggest games in cricket history. Pakistan play India in a 50-over ICC tournament final for the first time.
It cannot get bigger than this in the game of cricket, barring a world cup final between the two South Asian giants. But for now, the India-Pakistan final is the event and has already brought the cricketing world to a standstill.
Just a few weeks back, any notion hinting at Pakistan making it to the final of the prestigious ICC Champions Trophy would have induced laughter. After all, the Sarfraz-led unit entered the tournament as underdogs. The top eight teams in the ICC’s ODI rankings compete in this tournament – and Pakistan stood eighth.
But the Men in Green surprised everyone by becoming the first side to secure a berth in the final.
With a resurgent Pakistan, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the contest. One can never be sure which Pakistan will turn up to play this Sunday. Whether it would be the one that got humiliated against India exactly two weeks ago or the one that thrashed the best one-day side two days later.
Just two Sundays ago, India thrashed Pakistan by 124 runs. Virat Kohli’s men have an edge over their rivals this Sunday as well because of the latter’s fragile middle order batting.
Pakistan’s middle order (from number three till number seven) have scored 300 runs in the tournament at just 30 runs per wicket. The Indian middle order, on the other hand, have added nearly 500 runs at a staggering rate of 90.6 runs per wicket.
Four out of five in the middle order are right-handed batsmen and the only left-handed batsman of the order, Imad Wasim, comes in at the end, at number seven. This is an area that India will be targeting.
Left-arm orthodox Ravindra Jadeja averages 29 against right-handed batsmen as compared to 60 against the left-handed in the ODI format. However, after the match against Pakistan, in which he removed Azhar Ali and Mohammad Hafeez, Jadeja seems to have lost his lustre, bagging just two wickets for 140 runs in the following three matches.
Pakistan will be heavily reliant on their openers to get them a steady start. Since the introduction of 27-year-old Fakhar Zaman at the top of the order, Pakistan has seen a surge in the opening stands.
Pakistan’s first wicket posted 40 against South Africa. In the next match against Sri Lanka, the Azhar-Zaman duo put up 74 runs. During the semi-final against hosts England, they struck Pakistan’s first 100-plus opening partnership since May 2015.
Behind this surge is the rise in the scores of these two batsmen. Zaman has struck 31, 50, and 57 and Azhar has made 9, 34, 76. The two, however, will be up against the most potent pace attack in the history of Indian cricket.
Both Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who entered the tournament at the back of a fruitful IPL, and Jaspreet Bumrah, have been bowling at meticulous lengths. In a must-win game against South Africa, they choked Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock in the first power play, leading to a disastrous batting collapse for the best-ranked ODI side.
India will approach Pakistan’s opening pair in a similar manner, especially Zaman, who looked uncomfortable against English pacer Mark Wood in the semi-final, when he was being cramped for room.
After their loss against India, Pakistan resorted to their old tactics of unleashing their pacers on the opposition. Their spinners prepared the ball for reverse swing (legally) on an abrasive Edgbaston wicket in the match against South Africa. Hasan Ali, with his scorching reverse swingers, did the job in the middle overs.
This has been the pattern ever since.
23-year-old Hasan tops the tournament’s most-wicket column with 10 scalps in four matches. Left-arm fast bowler Junaid Khan stands at number four on the list with seven wickets.
Mohammad Amir has picked up only two wickets in the tournament from the three matches he has played. He missed the last contest due to a back spasm, but his impeccable bowling throughout the tournament keeps him in contention for the final. He will undertake a fitness test before the final and if deemed fit, will have a daunting task ahead.
Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma top the most-runs-of-the-tournament section with 317 and 304 in four matches apiece. In their journey to the final, the pair have struck two 100-plus opening partnerships, the first one coming against Pakistan.
Indian captain Kohli, who bats at one-drop, has struck three 50-plus scores, with his best score of 96* coming in the last match.
Pakistan have beaten India twice in ICC tournaments, both times in the Champions Trophy in 2004 and 2009. They have met India six times across limited-overs formats in ICC tournaments since their 2009 triumph, losing every time.
With a resurgent Pakistan, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the contest. One can never be sure which Pakistan will turn up to play this Sunday. Whether it would be the one that got humiliated against India exactly two weeks ago, or the one that thrashed the best one-day side two days later.
But unlike the Sunday when they were drubbed by India, Pakistan have a side full of self-belief this time. A side that has picked itself up. A side where juniors stepped up when seniors faltered.
From being beyond abysmal, this Sunday the Pakistani team will enter the Oval with a shot at the championship.
This is certainly a contest that promises to live up to its expectations.