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Sports

June 18, 2017
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Champions Trophy: Will Pakistan show heart in mother of all finals?

Champions Trophy: Will Pakistan show heart in mother of all finals?

LONDON: “If you have to fight and want to win, use the strongest muscles: Heart.”

Pakistan will have to listen to this advice from  Corina Abdulahm-Negura if they are to end their embarrassing losing spree against India and lift the ICC Champions Trophy for the first time at The Oval today.

Less than a fortnight ago, Pakistan didn’t show any heart as they just crumbled under pressure in a Pool B game against India at Edgbaston. Now that they have received a proverbial second chance, Pakistan cannot afford to be chicken-hearted again. They face a team that has proved itself to be one of the most destructive batting sides in the history of the game. They face a side that has one of the best bowling attacks in India’s history. They face a side that will settle for nothing less than the title. In short, Pakistan face a task that appears to be more challenging than scaling Everest in the middle of a storm. But from what we have seen in their last few games, if there is any team that is capable of stopping the Indian juggernaut, it’s Pakistan.

Fakhar Zaman, one of three debutants this tournament, has played key role in Pakistan
Fakhar Zaman, one of three debutants this tournament, has played key role in Pakistan's successes.

The way Pakistan neutralised the strong batting line-ups of South Africa and England proves that they have the firepower to silence India’s big guns like Shikhar Dhawan, who is the tournament’s top run-getter with 317 runs at 79.25. But if India have Dhawan then Pakistan can unleash the young Hasan Ali, the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with ten scalps at 17.20. Hasan and the rest of Pakistan’s attack proved too good for the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes at Edgbaston and Sophia Gardens.

However, the task of taming the likes of Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma could be a tough one on a fresh The Oval wicket that is expected to be full of runs. Back at Edgbaston and Cardiff, Pakistan played on used wickets that were dry and suited their bowling attack. But at The Oval, they might not get similar assistance. This is for the first time in this tournament that Pakistan will be playing at The Oval, which has been a batsman’s paradise in recent times. The average first-innings score here since the 2015 World Cup is 293; 300-plus scores are far more frequent there than at Edgbaston and Sophia Gardens.

Hasan Ali came into the tournament with only 16 ODIs to his name, but is the leading wicket-taker of the tournament with ten scalps.
Hasan Ali came into the tournament with only 16 ODIs to his name, but is the leading wicket-taker of the tournament with ten scalps.

Pakistan, however, shouldn’t lose heart. They are expected to get back pacer Mohammad Amir, who was forced to miss the semi-final game against England in Cardiff because of a back spasm. Pakistan will once again start as underdogs and have nothing to lose. The pressure should be on India, who are the defending champions. They will once again be looking towards rookie opener Fakhar Zaman to provide them with a positive start. The left-hander, who was not tried in the pool game against India, has scores of 31, 50 and 57 at a strike-rate above 117.

Rumman Raees clinched two important wickets in semi-final against England.
Rumman Raees clinched two important wickets in semi-final against England.

The Indians might have to drop seasoned spinner R Ashwin, who has pulled a muscle and was seen with a heavily-taped right knee on Saturday. He could be replaced by pacer Umesh Yadav, who sizzled in the June 4 game against Pakistan with 3-30.

History is on Pakistan’s side having won 72 matches to India's 52. But recent history tilts heavily in India’s favour. Then there is the fact that Pakistan have lost eight of the 10 matches the teams have played in global tournaments. India’s have fully exhibited their batting might in the tournament. They have piled up 1098 runs at a per-batsman average of 91.50 in the Champions Trophy, which makes them by a distance the best batting side on show. The next-best average is England's 41.11. Pakistan's 31 wickets are the most taken by any team in the Champions Trophy. Since that opening loss to India, they have taken 28 wickets at 23.78 and maintained an economy rate of 4.46. Four of India's top five average higher than 45 against Pakistan - Rohit Sharma the exception, with an average of 37.90. Junaid Khan has taken eight wickets at an average of 20.50 in five matches against India. He has dismissed Kohli three times, and conceded only two runs to him.

Fahim Ashraf bagged two wickets against Sri Lanka, the only match he played.
Fahim Ashraf bagged two wickets against Sri Lanka, the only match he played.

Teams (likely):

Pakistan: Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan

India: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (captain), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah.

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