The only thing predictable about the Pakistan cricket team is their unpredictability. From getting embarrassed by 124 runs against India in their first game to crushing Champions Trophy favourites England by eight wickets in the semi-final, their fortune in the tournament has changed quicker than the English weather.
On the other hand, India have been the best cricketing side in the ongoing tournament by a mile. The openers have been extremely reliable, Virat Kohli has looked as reassuring as he can be and the disciplined bowling unit has helped India keep the runs in check.
But India have also shown that they are vulnerable. They failed to turn up in their regular avatar against Sri Lanka and paid the price – their only defeat of the tournament so far.
Pakistan are more culpable than any other team for toying with the emotions of their fans. Against India, they justified their ICC ranking (8th) and left their fans out to dry. But the defeat was a wake-up call. The team which seemed lacking in every department has since staged an incredible comeback with victories against South Africa, Sri Lanka and England.
India are the favourites on Sunday no doubt, but the Pakistan they will face in the final is very very different from the Pakistan they faced on 4 June.
Momentum and confidence
It’s not that India don’t have the momentum going into the final. But winning is a habit, and that habit exudes confidence, which you carry from one match to the other. Pakistan will be getting into the final with a hat-trick of wins – rain helped them beat South Africa, then they scraped past Sri Lanka and handsomely beat England. India’s arch-rivals have only got better with time and are in a mind-space where they believe they can beat anyone.
The Sarfraz Ahmed-led side has discovered a winning formula over the course of the three wins and are expected to stick with their plan. The most vital aspect would be composure – passion dictates much of what they do on the field, and they will have to use it smartly.
It will be critical for them to take the final as just another game and not allow the occasion to get the better of them.
Hasan Ali’s change in fortune has an eerie similarity with how things have changed for Pakistan in the tournament. The pacer was clobbered for 70 runs in 10 overs by Indian batsmen and also dropped Yuvraj Singh before he went on to put up a performance worthy of the man-of-the-match award in their very next game.
With 10 wickets in his kitty, the 23-year-old bowler leads the wickets chart. His most famous scalps have been Faf du Plessis, Kusal Mendis, Jonny Bairstow, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes. This is a man for the occasion.
But he’s also nothing like a typical Pakistani fast bowler. Instead, he’s slim and short, but excellent at exploiting the conditions. He bowls full, short, slower ones and in-swingers. For Pakistan to win, they’ll need his complete repertoire of deliveries.
Another prodigy who has breathed fresh air in Pakistan’s crusade is Fakhar Zaman. The opener was brought into the side to make his debut in the second game against the South Africans – a move which has had a significant impact on Pakistan’s batting.
Fakhar has scored 138 runs in three games so far, with two half-centuries, at a strike rate of almost 118. His aggressive exploits have allowed Pakistan to dictate terms from the beginning and to take the pressure off the middle-order. The 118-run stand along with Azhar Ali against England was the first century stand from an opening pair in the last four years for Pakistan.
The rise of the youngster has been as surprising as Pakistan’s campaign. You never know which Pakistan is going to turn up on which day, and that makes them mysterious and extremely dangerous – and that’s exactly why India need to be wary of their neighbours as they prepare for the titanic clash in the final.
Feature image: Reuters