Thursday, June 15, 2017

India-Pakistan Final: Form against the Unpredictable.

On Sunday India and Pakistan take to the field at Oval for the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, each carrying the weight of expectations of millions of people. India rides on the form of its front line batsmen and the fact that in the recent group stage match they thrashed Pakistan. Sharma, Dhawan and Kholi backed by a hard hitting middle order, (though not tested yet) have been the mainstay of India's strength in one day cricket. In this sense they have embraced the style of modern cricket, which suggests to rely on the batsmen to post a high score or have the hard hitting to chase down any total. England, South Africa and many other nations imbibed this philosophy as the rules of the game changed to favor batsmen more than bowlers.

For Pakistan who for decades have had a mercurial batting line up the strength to win matches always rested with the bowlers. In a sense as the rules changed the dice were loaded against strong bowling sides. For the past decade Pakistan has tried to follow the style of modern cricket, failing mainly because their players never had the exposure or temperament and perhaps self belief to approach the new form of the game with confidence. The adjustments have been all the more hard because as they felt the gap was being filled a betting scandal would force them to lose a talented player.

After the defeat to India, it would seem someone woke up in the Pakistan camp and said this new approach to one day cricket just does not work. In the matches since then the modern approach was shed off and a return to what Pakistan was good at was visible. The bowlers became the mainstay of their strategy, explaining the bizarre decisions to bowl first where many other captains would have done otherwise.

India on the other hand has continued to reinforce its belief in its batsmen, keeping in tune with the modern approach to the game. The result has been usually muscling their way to wins with never really having to bat below number 6. Interestingly the one game they lost to Sri Lanka, they reached 319 for 6 mainly due to the openers contributing 200 of the 321 runs they put on the board, the other six batsmen adding only 100 runs in the crucial power plays and yet Sri Lanka played the same game and romped home with ease.

To predict a win an passion filled match such as this final would be foolish. It could be anybody's day. While India will not change their modern day approach to the game Pakistan will perhaps revert to their bowling as the mainstay. But the bowlers will not have to try and contain India, like they tried in the recent game, but to go for wickets, like they did with South Africa, Sri Lanka and a strong England. Yes the Oval pitch will be skiddy and different to the wicket in Cardiff, and the bowlers will have to stick to a line and length form of attack. If Pakistan can do that then a couple of quick wickets will change the complexion of the game.

India may well on the exterior be confident of their strength and form but they know well the potency of the Pakistan attack once it smells blood. For the men in green the discipline on the field and belief in the bowling will have be the potential weapon that could rattle Indias top order and expose the middle batting line. India will also know that the batting line Pakistan now presents has learned to keep the scoreboard moving and in a couple of new faces they have the ability to change the fate of the match.

Either way, who ever wins, in terms of cricket fans it does not get bigger than an India and Pakistan final. Its a match where statistics, form and the words of pundits all are left on the boundary line, because on the square any thing can happen..

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