India V Pakistan
Saturday 18 June, 7:30pm AEST
Fierce rivals India and Pakistan will play off for the Champions Trophy title in what promises to be a thrilling final at the Oval on Sunday.
India progressed to their fourth Champions Trophy final by making light work of Bangladesh in their semi-final played at Edgbaston on Thursday. After winning the toss and electing to field, Indian spearhead Bhuvneshwar Kumar (2/53 off ten overs) continued his excellent form, picking up two early wickets to have the Tigers reeling at 2/31.
However Bangladesh steadied with a 123-run partnership which looked set to deliver them a formidable total, but when the breakthrough arrived via the unlikely source of part-timer Kedar Jadhav (2/22 off six overs), the Bangladeshis failed to regain the ascendency and could only stammer to a below-par 7/264 from their 50 overs.
While the chase didn’t appear to be a straightforward one, the defending champions wasted little time in mopping up the runs as quickly and as comfortably as they could. Shikhar Dhawan powered to the top of the tournament runs-scorers list with a belligerent 46 off just 37 balls, with his opening compatriot Rohit Sharma only marginally behind him on that list thanks to an effortless 123 not out off 129 deliveries.
To cap it off, skipper Virat Kohli continued his impressive form with an undefeated 96 off 78 balls, which means that he has now scored 253 runs in the competition while only being dismissed once.
Pakistan reached their first ever Champions Trophy decider by upsetting tournament hosts and favourites England at Sophia Gardens on Wednesday. They too had the advantage of batting second in a semi-final, although early on England made promising progress to sit at 2/128 in the 28th over.
But once again Pakistan’s bowlers took control of the middle overs with the irresistible Hasan Ali conjuring another outstanding spell to finish with 3/35 off ten overs, while new ball pair Junaid Khan (2/42 off 8.5 overs) and debutant Rumman Raees (2/44 off nine overs) also playing important roles as England fell away to be bowled out for just 211.
Pakistan rarely chase modest totals with ease, however on this occasion they were becalmed by a 118-run opening stand between Azhar Ali and Fazkar Zaman. The openers complimented each other brilliantly with Zaman the aggressor in his knock of 57 off 58 balls, while Azhar worked the ball to all parts of the ground in a typically steady innings of 76 of 100 balls.
Middle-order duo Babar Azam (38 not out off 45 balls) and Mohammad Hafeez (31 not out off 21 balls) ensured there’d be no collapse once both openers departed, leading Pakistan to a comfortable eight-wicket victory. Despite the excellent performance of debutant Raees, Pakistan will be sweating on the fitness of Mohammad Amir who missed the semi-final with a back injury.
The side batting second has won three of the four completed matches at The Oval throughout the tournament and that was likely to be four out of five with Australia looking comfortable chasing in their abandoned match against Bangladesh. This will be Pakistan’s first appearance at The Oval in this year’s Champions Trophy with India splitting their two games here.
Three out of five first innings totals have exceeded 290, however the other two saw sides bowled out for under 200. Pakistan will want to see the back of Dhawan early, with the left-hander having scored 305 runs in three innings at this ground.
- India have now won six of their past eight ODIs.
- India have won four of their past five ODIs against Pakistan.
- India’s top three batsmen have faced 86% of all deliveries faced by the entire team this tournament.
- Pakistan have won five of their past six ODIs.
- Pakistan have won four of their past five ODIs in England.
- The side batting second has won six of the past seven matches in this tournament.
India are strongly favoured to reclaim their title with Pakistan still unfancied despite their stunning run to the final.
The Indians are on the brink of replicating Australia’s deeds in 2006 and 2009 by capturing consecutive Champions Trophies and for that they largely have their top-order to thank. Between them Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have scored an incredible 856 runs at an average of 107.00 and strike-rate of 94.17, with seven fifties and two hundreds. Less heralded has been the contribution of their bowling attack which, despite one blip against Sri Lanka, has stood up when required and been led wonderfully by the indomitable Bhuvneshwar.
Up against an improving but inconsistent Pakistani batting line-up, it’s hard to say that India have a clear edge in the field, however they should at least be able to hold their own. Where I do have concerns is what lies beneath that prolific top three of Rohit, Dhawan and Kohli as it will only take a couple of them to register a low score and India’s undercooked middle-order will be exposed to a quality bowling attack in huge match. Therefore I couldn’t be going near the favourites at this sort of price.
When Pakistan slumped to a 124-run opening defeat to Sunday’s opponents, it seemed their chances of a first ever Champions Trophy title had already been extinguished, however they have since gone on a remarkable run, overcoming South Africa, Sri Lanka and England to make it all the way to the big dance. Unlike India, their primary strength is with ball in hand, thanks to a wonderfully balanced attack that has not conceded 250 since that first game.
The medium pace of Hasan Ali has been a revelation, while they also boast strike-weapons in Junaid and Amir (fitness pending), with the quicks ably supported by the economical spin of Hafeez, Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan. The other impressive element of Pakistan’s run is that they have blooded three debutants throughout the tournament which stands in stark contrast to India’s ageing squad, however there is no doubt that it has served them well. In form and with a more balanced side across the board their price has certainly caught my attention.
Thus far no side has been unable to tame India’s scorching top-order, however now given another chance I believe Pakistan have the attack to bring them into check and expose an underdone middle-order which has faced just 14% of all India’s deliveries so far throughout the competition. The battle of India’s bowlers vs Pakistan’s batsmen looks a fairly even one to me and then there is the toss which is set to play a crucial role, given that the side batting second has won six of the past seven matches in this tournament with both sides having a preference to chase.
All things considered I cannot go past backing Pakistan at starting price, however given their poor record against their neighbours over a long period and their ability to seemingly lose a match from the most impregnable position, I will be trading out and looking to finish the competition with a green number against both sides.
BACK-TO-LAY – Pakistan at 2.90 or bigger for 2 units (trade out at 1.75 or better)