India favourites in needle clash

India favourites in needle clash

One of cricket’s most fascinating rivalries will be fought before a sell-out Edgbaston crowd on Sunday when India and Pakistan cross swords in their opening Champions Trophy fixture with some lingering concerns in respective camps.

A couple of weeks ago, India looked the overwhelming favourites for this Group B contest against a rebuilding Pakistan side that has been struggling to find its feet in one-day international cricket since the start of 2016.

Possessing an established batting line-up, couple of world-class spinners and a pace quartet oozing with confidence and class, India were not just predicted to down Pakistan but were even tipped by many pundits as potential semifinalists.

However, the alleged rift between skipper Virat Kohli and coach Anil Kumble and speculations over players’ unhappiness with the ‘school-master’ style functioning of the Indian legend has raised questions over the mood in the camp and how they are going to counter it in a high-pressure match. While Kohli denied all of this on Saturday and even received throw-downs from Kumble during an indoor practice session on Friday, the tension between the two seemed obvious.

Having said all that, controversies are not new to the Men In Blue and judging by the determination and focus they've shown in the two warm-up games as well the camaraderie during Saturday's training session, they will be eager to get on the field on Sunday and speed off the blocks.

It will be interesting to see what playing eleven Kohli picks for Sunday with all the players having made strong cases for themselves. While Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are set to open, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and M S Dhoni are certainties in the middle-order. Going by their heroics at the same event four years ago in the same country, spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja should be starting as well. They picked up a combined tally of 20 wickets in five matches last time around and the duo have also enjoyed considerable success in English conditions.

The question is over the choice of pacers and whether he will go with either Dinesh Karthik/Kedar Jadhav or pick in-form all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who hammered a blistering 54-ball 80 and did reasonably well with the ball in the warm-up game against Bangladesh.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar enjoyed another brilliant IPL, picking wickets at the start and showing exceptional control at the death. Jasprit Bumrah has been making waves with his death bowling while Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami are fast and furious. One of them has to warm the benches and it will be a tough choice.

Pakistan, not looking like the forces of old, have a wood over India in the Champions Trophy unlike the other two ICC events where they've never beaten India. But they will have to bring out their best if they wish to upset their rivals considering the inexperience in their ranks.

Their batting will depend on Ahmed Shehzad, talented Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez and seasoned campaigner Shoaib Malik, who has cherished playing against India with an average close to 50. The big problem for Pakistan is their inability to rotate strike that has impacted their scoring rate. Their pace attack comprising Mohammed Amir, Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali looks potent with young Junaid Khan waiting in the wings.

The teams and fans will be praying for good weather after rain washed out the game between Australia and New Zealand here. The pitch looks loaded with runs and the fans, some of whom have paid through their noses to get a seat at the stadium, can look forward to a high-scoring encounter. On paper, India look favourites but unpredictable Pakistan will have their own plans.

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