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PREVIEW: Cornered Tigers set to face Defending Champions
ICC Champions Trophy

PREVIEW: Cornered Tigers set to face Defending Champions

The road till here

The overture to the final has seen some emphatic wins, glorious upsets, and absolutely nerve-racking matches. The crescendo could not have been scripted better. In cricket, an occasion does not get bigger than an India versus Pakistan contest.


India has played like defending champions with clinical performances throughout the Champions Trophy, save the one blemish against Sri Lanka. They have the most balanced side in the tournament and have performed well in all departments of the game, particularly with the bat. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are all among the top five run-scorers in the tournament with Dhawan leading the pack. Their semi-final against Bangladesh seemed like a mere formality, as they chased down the target of 265 set by their subcontinent neighbors with 9 wickets to spare.


On the other hand, Pakistan has had a more undulating ride to the finals. After a thumping defeat to India, they came back very strongly to stun South Africa in their second game at Edgbaston. As has been their traditional strength, Pakistan bowled their opponents out of the game. As the leading wicket taker in the tournament Hasan Ali has been their go-to man, while Junaid Khan has also been amongst the top five wicket-takers. Pakistan played imperiously against England in the first semi-final, they bowled England out for 211 and won the game by 8 wickets to earn a place in the final.


What to expect

A good track on a warm, sunny day at The Oval. There will be no rain around, and any umbrellas spotted would only mean protection from the sun. Expect a packed, noisy stadium painted green and blue, right down to the aisles. It will be an electric atmosphere, adding to the pressure of the occasion on both teams. Winning the toss will be of strategic importance for both captains.


Pakistan seems to have found their mojo at last. They put up a complete performance against England with bat, ball and in the field. To have a chance at winning the title, their bowling must come good against a prolific Indian batting line-up. They will look for early wickets with Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan, and sneak a few tight overs from the spinners. Hasan Ali’s performance will be vital to Pakistan’s chances of restricting India to a desirable target. However, getting off to a good start with the bat will be key with Fakhar Zaman hitting good form, and Azhar Ali looking more at ease with his opening partner. The rest of the batting line-up will have to take responsibility to avoid any collapses.


In familiar territory, India will walk into their third Champions Trophy final with a psychological upper-hand, having defeated Pakistan earlier in the tournament. Their openers have been consistent, and will hope to get them off to a steady start once more. They also have a strong, in-form middle-order comprising Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, and MS Dhoni. Even their bowling has seemed more effective with Ravichandran Ashwin back in the side. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is their highest wicket-taker in the tournament, and will want to provide early inroads for the spinners to exploit. Also, both teams will stress on being sharp in the field.


It is expected that both teams will look to go into the finals without any changes to the playing XI. If Mohammad Amir is fit, he will replace Rumman Raees. Despite picking up three wickets against Pakistan, Umesh Yadav will likely miss out for Ravichandran Ashwin.


Probable XI

India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin / Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah


Pakistan: Fakhar Zaman, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfaraz Ahmed (c), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir / Rumman Raees, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan


Players that can make a difference

Fakhar Zaman – Having debuted in the game against South Africa, he has been the kind of attacking player Pakistan needed at the top of the order. He has racked up 21 boundaries and two sixes in his three games so far with two fifties to his name. Pakistan will hope he gets off to a flier in the final as well.


Hasan Ali – He is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament with 10 wickets to his name. Masterful in the middle of the innings, he has picked up key wickets at crucial moments to break the opposition’s momentum. With absolute passion for the game, he has been an inspiration for the team with his performances.


Ravindra Jadeja – His four wickets do not reflect the effectiveness of his bowling. He gets through his overs in a jiffy, while maintaining tight lines to stem the opposition’s run flow. His bowling will be key for taking pressure away from other bowlers around him. He’s also an agile point fielder, having stopped plenty of runs in the region to go with a couple of runouts.


Virat Kohli – Averaging 50.44 against Pakistan, he has scored heavily against the archrivals including two centuries. He became the fastest to 8000 ODI runs in his previous game, and is averaging 253 in this edition of the Champions Trophy. India almost always wins when he bats through an innings, and he has been dismissed only once in this tournament.


Stat Alert

It’s only the second time India will meet Pakistan in the finals of an ICC tournament. The last time they met was at the T20 World Cup in 2007. India won that final.


This is Pakistan’s first Champions Trophy final, and India’s third. It is also Pakistan’s first game at The Oval, whereas it’s the third for India.


Out of the five games played at The Oval so far, teams defending a total have won just once.


Virat Kohli has gotten out only once in this Champions Trophy in the group game against Sri Lanka. He also became the fastest to 8000 ODI runs in only 175 innings.


Pakistan are yet to bat first in the tournament.


Hasan Ali has taken more wickets (39) than he has runs scored (37) in the 20 ODIs he has played so far.


Ravichandran Ashwin is four wickets away from 150 ODI wickets.


Ramiz Raja predicted an India vs Pakistan final. He was the only one out of 15 commentators to get it right. He predicts Pakistan will win the contest.