A little under four years ago in the same competition, team India were a bunch of joy rejoicing their triumph over the host nation England. Shadow of spot-fixing was following the team then, but Dhoni and his troops put all the negativity to bed through sheer weight of performance on the field.
This time around, if the rumors floating in the air are true, the coach-captain conflict saga part 2 (All the makings of a sequel to Ganguly-Chappell chapter) could derail India’s chances at the global event.
In a week where Donald Trump has hogged the limelight with his decision to pull out of the Paris accord agreement, a feisty India-Pakistan contest on Sunday has the potential to steal Trump’s thunder, such is the magnetic pull of this money-spinner contest.
India enter the tournament a bit undercooked and surprisingly, with their bowling as the stronger suit. Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshvar Kumar have provided the captain some positive selection headaches ahead of the blockbuster encounter.
The opening slot is up for grabs as both Rahane and Dhawan have failed to impress in the warm-up games. Shikhar Dhawan is a shadow of the player that took the 2013 edition by storm. Rohit Sharma is looking like a car under maintenance and Rahane in spite of being the most technically sound player in the team, his one-day record doesn’t exude much confidence. Kohli will have to fix the opening conundrum sooner rather than later, as short tournaments like these offer little opportunities for experimentation.
Dhoni and Yuvraj, two grandpas of Indian cricket are at the climax of their careers. For Dhoni, there will be no shortage of hunger and motivation, especially after Guha’s ‘superstar syndrome’ jibe.
Dhoni’s finishing prowess is on the wane, but has enough in the tank to make the opposition shiver by his presence in the death overs. One dimension that often goes unnoticed is his wicket keeping, which is like an old wine which keeps on getting better with every outing. Yuvraj Singh doesn’t have the same swagger of yesteryears, but his experience can drive the team through choppy waters.
Kedhar Jadhav is a relatively unknown commodity and the international waters have tasted sweet so far in his short career but Kohli might just be tempted to play the more experienced Karthik ahead of Jadhav as experience in crunch situations bear fruit. Kohli himself would want to set the record straight in England, after an iffy IPL and is the only dark spot in his illustrious career till date.
Pakistan are a predictably unpredictable side but in recent times they have not been a force to reckon with in the shorter formats. Javed Miandad’s six off the last ball against Chetan Sharma, Akhtar’s twin strikes at the Eden Gardens, Yousuf’s heroics in 2004 and 2009 edition of Champions trophy seem like mere relics of the medieval past now.
India-Pakistan contests have always been touted as a battle between India’s batsmen and Pakistan’s bowlers. This time around even India’s bowling supersedes that of their Pakistani counterparts as Pakistan’s bowling resources have dwindled over the past few years.
In a tournament where batsmen are tipped to reign supreme and runs are like sheaves of harvested corn, Pakistan lack the firepower in their batting. Umar Akmal has been put on his bike for his apparent lack of fitness, spot-fixing virus has caught up with Nasir Jamshed as he has joined the list of rotten tomatoes. Babar Azam looks the only bright spot in a team not inspiring confidence amongst its own supporters.
Mohammed Amir return to international cricket hasn’t really set the stage on fire as first expected, but Pakistan would hope that he would get his mojo back for them to have any chance of progressing in the tournament. This is not a colorful and flamboyant Pakistani side which would have your eyeballs in a state of gaze, but stranger things have happened in the past and India would write them off at their own peril. Overall, India look to have all bases covered and are much more balanced and settled unit as compared to their arch-rivals, and are better equipped to win the match. Pakistan are currently driving an auto-rickshaw in a street full of limousines and need to take a leaf out of England’s books and become contemporary to keep abreast with the changing dynamics in the modern game.
Political acrimony between the two nations might have curtailed the cricketing ties significantly, but India has the wood over Pakistan in global tournaments. Mercurial Pakistan can be a potential banana-slip for team India, and if they slip then they will have to face an intense post-mortem by India’s renowned media surgeon (Shashi Tharoor knows the taste of that medicine!)
In a utopian world, India would have started as favorites to lift the trophy, but given the circumstances and form, India would do well to reach the last leg of the tournament and in turn put all the conspiracy theories to bed.
It is in the best interests of all the stakeholders to put all the speculations to rest, and let the cricket take center stage!
–Brought to you by SPORTSNASHA