India will take this as any other game, said a composed Virat Kohli as his men set up a juicy ICC Champions Trophy final with Pakistan, after overwhelming Bangladesh on Thursday. This kind of ignorance though could just fail India against a completely different-looking opposition from what the Men in Blue thrashed a fortnight ago. The neighbours are definitely not the bookmakers’ favourites, but a much-quoted Biblical account of David and Goliath does turn the tide into Pak’s favour, in our opinion.

 

Started from the bottom now we’re here

For starters, no one, including even some of the Pak players, had hoped to reach the final of the tournament, especially after the 124-run drubbing at the hands of India in their opening match. But the lowest-ranked side in the competition have since then defied all odds to book an entry ticket into the summit clash. They downed the top-ranked South Africans and even beat hosts and favourites England in the semi-final.

That the Proteas are prone to choking and a spineless England side showed up on the day, were contributing factors, but that takes nothing away from the recovery following what coach Mickey Arthur labelled a “shambolic” display.

 

Pace battery 

Along with the high-spirited support staff, much of the credit for that turnaround has also got to go to the Pakistan bowlers, who have almost singlehandedly led the charge. With their tails up, Hasan Ali and Junaid Khan bowled arguably one of the best spells of fast-bowling against England, especially employing the famous Pakistani weapon of reverse wing. India haven’t been put under much pressure by quality fast bowling in the CT17 so far, meaning the Pakistan pacers, with their variations, could well run riot on their day.

In fact the spinners too have chipped in whenever called upon by Safraraz Ahmed. The trio of left-armer Imad Wasim, leggie Shadab Khan and the partnership-breaker Mohammad Hafeez has been far more potent than India’s spin-twins Ravi Aswhin and Ravindra Jadeja in the tournament. Although India’s fast bolwers have often risen up to the occasion in the competition so far, but India’s strength traditionally remains spin bowling; and like against Bangladesh, you can’t rely on Kedar Jadhav’s round-arm skidders in every match.

 

Surprise, surprise

Another surprise in the refreshed Pak armour is a talented young batsman called Fakhar Zaman. Having replaced Ahmed Shehzad after Pakistan’s defeat to India, the aggressive opener has gone on to score 31, 50 and 57 in the successive matches, that too at a strike rate of almost 120. He has been the silver lining in his team’s rather inconsistent batting lineup and in his first meeting with the Indians, can take the game away from them right from the word go, reminiscent of a certain Saeed Anwar.

It is also worth mentioning that India have been more comfortable in run-chases rather than batting first. If we don’t take the opening game into consideration, the Men in Blue were found wanting when defending a 300-plus total against Sri Lanka. Fortuitously for them, Virat Kohli has called the toss correctly thereafter, mostly inviting the opposition to bat first. So if Sarfaraz can win this first battle on Sunday, Team India could be under pressure even before the game starts.

Much of India’s gameplan to bat second has also got to do with the weather in Edgbaston, given that it is easier to make sense of the bizarre Duckworth-Lewis formula that way. But the met department predicts a bright, sunny day at The Oval on Sunday, so all of India’s tried-and-tested strategies could well go down the drain.

Pakistan have had a history self-implosion over the years, but the likes of Javed Miandad have also caused heartbreaks of equal measures. India might hold a superior track record across major ICC tournaments against their arch rivals, but anything can happen in sport on a given day. And we believe that exactly a decade after these two sides met in the final of an ICC tournament, it’s now the Green Shirts’ time to have the last laugh.

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