India, England eye big prize

India, England eye big prize

India, England eye big prize

An India and England match-up doesn’t quite generate the passion an Australia-England match would. Nor does it lead to tension and drama that an India-Pakistan face-off may. But over the last few years India-England rivalry has spawned greater interest and not necessarily only because of the battles they have had on the cricket field.

Much as players may deny, there is much more at stake than just the Champions Trophy when the two nations meet each other in the summit clash here at Edgbaston on Sunday. The weather has been muggy for the last two days and there is a prediction of intermittent spells of showers during the final but that is unlikely to dampen the spirit of fans. The significant, if not equal, Indian support base here should spice up the competition as the two teams chase a piece of history.

Understandably, there is a lot more riding for the hosts. England, without a major ICC one-day international title in the last 38 years since the inception of the World Cup in 1975, will be desperate to end that dubious record. They have finished runners-up in three World Cups (1979, 1987 and 1992) and saw West Indies enact a heist in the 2004 Champions Trophy final at The Oval.

Desperate as they will be to reverse the losing trend in finals, they are up against a side that is yet to taste defeat in this tournament. If it were to be an India of 2011, when they failed to eke out a single win against the home team, England would have started with their noses in front. But this is a different Indian outfit which has most of its bases covered -- a settled batting department, an impressive bowling group and an excellent fielding unit.

India’s cricket at once has been fearless and fascinating, installing them as the favourites to win the tournament. Unlike England, India’s record in major finals has been impressive. They emerged champions in 1983 and 2011 World Cups and were second best against Australia in 2003. In the two Champions Trophy finals, they finished runners-up to New Zealand in 2000 and were declared joint winners with Sri Lanka in 2002 after a washout. A win on Sunday will not only embellish their excellent campaign, it will also make India the only country after the West Indies to have claimed all three ICC tournaments outright – World Cup, Champions Trophy and World T20.

India’s experience of handling pressure in finals should stand them in good stead but England, despite their unconvincing run to the title match, will not be easy pushovers. While their record in one-dayers isn’t too flattering outside of England, they are a force reckon with at home. Especially their bowling in these conditions poses perennial threat and how well the Indian batsmen handle the English pacemen may decide the course of the contest. For the record, India have won only two matches in the last 10 one-dayers here while losing in six. One match has ended in a tie and the other in no result.

Led by an extremely effective James Anderson, the three-pronged English pace attack, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan (set to replace Steven Finn) being the other two, works like a well-oiled machine. The three right-arm quicks, operating at similar pace, are sure to attack the Indian batsmen relentlessly. The good starts provided by the Indian openers – Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma – have been the key to India’s batting exploits but the young duo will face a sterner test on Sunday.

Indian bowlers too have made most of the helpful conditions. The pace trio of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma may not quite measure up to the experience and skills of their English counterparts, but they looked very much the part despite limited knowledge of bowling here.

A wobbly English top-order will have to be on guard.