Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been in such good form that the middle order has hardly been needed to bat in the competition. © Getty Images

Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been in such good form that the middle order has hardly been needed to bat in the competition. © Getty Images

The final: India v Pakistan
Date: Sunday (June 18)
Venue: The Oval, London

HEAD-TO-HEAD

128 matches; India 52; Pakistan 72; no result 4

THE FORM

The mother of all battles. Bigger than the Ashes. Super Sunday. You have heard them all. In short, India v Pakistan is much more than a game of cricket. And if that game happens to be only the second time the two sides meet in the final of a world event….

In many ways, it’s incredible that these two sides are actually meeting in this grand stage. There were talks – not without reason – that the rivalry was a thing of the past after their earlier meeting in the tournament. Pakistan were so poor and shambolic that even Indian fans began to yearn for the glory days when the cricket was as intriguing as the off-field hype. Obituaries for Pakistan’s cricket were written. There were suggestions that Pakistan were no longer unpredictable, they were just poor.

But how things have changed in the two weeks since! Pakistan stunned the world’s No. 1 side in South Africa and also destroyed England, the tournament favourites. And what’s a Pakistan winning run without one of those mad scrambles, like the one that came against Sri Lanka? Out of nowhere, Pakistan have lifted themselves to set a date with destiny.

R Ashwin suffers minor injury scare
Ashwin suffered an injury scare when he hurt his right knee while fielding in India’s training session on Saturday. Ashwin cut short his training session and walked off the field with Patrick Farhart, the physio, but was back after a while to bowl in the nets with a knee cap as support.

India, meanwhile, have done what was expected of them. Apart from a blip against Sri Lanka, they have been clinical and looked the team to beat in the competition. The batting has looked as strong as ever, but, incredibly, India now also have one of the best bowling attacks in world cricket.

In fact, it’s in the bowling department that there’s hardly anything to differentiate between India and Pakistan. Both sides have brilliant pacers who are backed by tidy spinners. They also have a knack of picking wickets in the middle overs – a phase of the game that has turned out to be the most crucial after the new fielding restrictions. India and Pakistan have got 18 wickets each from their four matches between overs 11 and 40.

Where India stand out though is their ability to handle pressure in big matches. In Mickey Arthur’s own words, Pakistan played the occasion last time instead of the opposition. This time, the occasion is much bigger, but Arthur has promised that their plans are based on “us” rather than “them”. If they can do that, the Edgbaston match and all the other previous encounters could well be history.

Yuvraj Singh have a big job against a rejuvenated attack this time, but he is known to lift his game for big occasions. © BCCI

Yuvraj Singh have a big job against a rejuvenated attack this time, but he is known to lift his game for big occasions. © BCCI

CONDITIONS

There is a reserve day for the final but it won’t be needed, for the sun has been out through the week in London. It automatically means that teams from subcontinent will feel at home, and hopefully produce some of their best cricket.

The pitch is fresh and wasn’t used for any of the earlier games in the tournament. It makes for a fascinating contest as the conditions are batsmen-friendly, but the sides playing have the best bowling units.

Kohli backs Pandya
I would back a guy like Hardik who provides you so much balance in conditions that he can be effective as a bowler, and his batting is priceless. If you’re chasing a total and you need eight an over and you’ve lost wickets, he’s a guy who can still win you the game. That’s the kind of belief he has in his ability and we have that belief in him. He’s a gun fielder, as well. It’s very hard to find a package like that. When he bowls well, it’s a total relief for me as a captain because he can get you seven good overs.

THE MATCH-UP

India’s middle order v Pakistan’s middle-overs bowling.

Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli have been in such good form that the middle order has hardly been needed to bat in the competition. That could well work against India on the big day as Pakistan have been brilliant in the middle overs, getting the ball to reverse from around the 30th over. Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir – who has been cleared fit to play – and Hasan Ali have breathed fire with the old ball, and if they can create some early inroads, India’s middle order might have a tough task in hand.

THE WILDCARDS

India:
Yuvraj Singh: He didn’t get to bat or bowl in his 300th ODI, but Pakistan will be aware of the threat that Yuvraj poses if he does get a chance. The left-hander turned the course of India’s innings, and thus the match, when he smashed a 32-ball 53 against Pakistan in Edgbaston. He’ll have a big job against a rejuvenated attack this time, but Yuvraj too is known to lift his game for big occasions.

Pakistan:
Babar Azam: Azam is among Pakistan’s biggest strengths with the bat, already making five centuries and six half-centuries in just 28 ODIs. He hasn’t made massive runs in the Champions Trophy so far, but did make crucial contributions against South Africa and England. On a batting-friendly track, Azam at No. 3 could well play a pivotal role for Pakistan.

Fakhar Zaman in form, he’s daring and fearless. Just what Pakistan will need to ease their nerves on a big day. © Getty Images

Fakhar Zaman in form, he’s daring and fearless. Just what Pakistan will need to ease their nerves on a big day. © Getty Images

WATCH OUT FOR…

Fakhar Zaman: The opening batsman is the difference between the Pakistan side that was destroyed by India at Edgbaston and the one that has got on a dream run since. Zaman has scores of 31, 50 and 57 at a strike-rate above 117, giving Pakistan the much needed quick starts. He’s in form, he’s daring and fearless. Just what Pakistan will need to ease their nerves on a big day.

Teams (from)

India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (capt), Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Mohammed Shami, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav.

Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Fakhar Zaman, Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Junaid Khan, Rumman Raees.