Arch-rivals set for battle royale

Defending champions India start favourites against confident Pakistan in high-octane final

A Champions Trophy full of shock and surprises has reached a dream end with India taking on arch-rivals Pakistan in the final on Sunday. Fans, though, would be hoping it turns out to be a thrilling spectacle and not a one-sided affair as witnessed between the two sides in the recent times. India currently don’t play Pakistan bilaterally owing to political tensions but every time they've met in ICC or continental events, they’ve bossed them to make a mockery of the rivalry. India crushed Pakistan in their last two Champions Trophy matches, have cantered home in their last two World Cup games, being dominant in their last two World T20 affairs and were too good in the last Asia Cup (T20I) outing as well.

Come Sunday at the Oval that is expected to be packed to the brim, India would be determined to extend their dominance and adorn themselves with the white blazers for a second straight time. Barring the result against Sri Lanka, they’ve been absolutely top notch in all departments of the game, correcting the errors and assuming a ruthless edge with every passing game.

Openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who kick-started their journey together as openers at this very tournament four years ago, have been in scintillating form, with both having hammered a ton each and constantly laying the foundation for the famed middle-order to come out and explode.
Skipper Virat Kohli, who arrived for his first major event as a skipper with some concerns over his form, is back to his sensational best, slamming three unbeaten half-centuries and leading his troops with dynamism.

Veterans Yuvraj Singh and M S Dhoni have been amongst the runs in whatever chances they’ve got and the presence of the latter has helped Kohli a lot in decision making too. Whenever the chips are down or tough calls have to be made, Kohli consults his predecessor Dhoni and ends up getting priceless suggestions.
Fast bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have been right on the money while spinners Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, two of the best slower bowlers in the world, have combined well on the batting friendly surfaces. Add the all-round skills of Hardik Pandya and the impact Kedar Jadhav can have with the bat and the ball, India look very potent. They’ve made a habit of doing the boring things right and they should prove handful for Pakistan.

However, if there is one team that can derail India, it is Pakistan. They qualified for the tournament by the skin of their teeth and even got hammered in their opener against India, the inexperienced bunch suffering from a bout of nerves. But they've turned things around in stunning fashion to march into their maiden Champions Trophy final.

Just like many Pakistan sides of the old, they've relied on their impressive pace bowling to shock South Africa and then England in the semifinals. Mohammed Amir, who missed the semifinal due to back spasms but is fit for the final, has harried the batsmen with his pace and swing upfront. Junaid Khan, also a left-armer, has exploited the pressure applied by Amir by getting those early wickets.

The revelation has been Hasan Ali, the pacer who comes in the middle overs and breaks the rhythm of the opposition. With 10 scalps, he's the leading wicket-taker and he could be prove to be a canny customer for the Indians.

Concern lies in the batting with only opener Fakhar Zaman and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed appearing confident. Azhar Ali has looked solid at the top but he's very orthodox and is not known to score quickly. The talented Babar Azam and veteran Mohammed Hafeez are yet to click while former skipper Shoaib Malik has been patchy. It is this weakness that the Indians will be looking to exploit although the pitch should be kind for the batsmen.

Odds favour the composed Indians but the mercurial Pakistan have the ammunition to pull off an upset.
 

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