By: Richard Bruinsma
Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid.
Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi. All legendary rivalries.
But now, to the joy and anticipation of the sporting world, we are poised to see another exciting chapter in what is arguably the biggest and most-emotive rivalry ever in world cricket – Pakistan vs India. Like any great athlete, both teams have adjusted and polished their performances with each game along the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy tournament and are now peaking at the right time. Whatever the outcome in tomorrow’s final, the game will almost undoubtedly go down in history as one to remember.
On the eve of the big game, with anticipation rising, it is cricket lovers around the world who are already winners. But who looks to have the upper edge in the battle to lift the trophy? India, of course, was among the four favourites at the start of the tournament. Pakistan, however, has stumped and surprised the pundits (me included) and now has the incalculable motivation that helps empower any underdog that makes all the right moves and might very-well realise a wonderful dream.
Both teams had unusual tournaments: India defeated Pakistan quite easily, on paper, in their Group B clash on June 4. But two rain interruptions and revised targets for Pakistan may well have interrupted their batting rhythm in that game. The result was not really a good indication of the true form of either team. Next, Pakistan found itself instead on the fortunate side of another rain interrupted game, this time against South Africa on June 7. The Green Shirts won by a slim 19 runs, but, in reality, half its innings was washed out by rain. It’s hard to know what nuances, what strengths, what weaknesses, in either team, were saved from exposure by Mother Nature?
India’s shock result against Sri Lanka was perhaps its most valuable in the rounds, and may well have been the trigger that created the mindset that sees them now playing in the tournament final. To lose at the hands of a team that needed to record its joint-highest successful run-chase in the one day form of the game, was a blessing in disguise that reminded the Indians to never take any team lightly.After several days to re-group, the lesson was put into practice in the following clash against South Africa, one of the leading favourites for the tournament, who were defeated by an impressive eight wickets with six overs to spare. India’s victory was, no doubt, a massive confidence booster as it progressed, from this game, to the semi-final.
Pakistan secured a semi-final berth with very similar form in its final group clash, against Sri Lanka, by winning by three wickets and a handful of overs to spare. It’s also the game that knocked out the Sri Lankans who, up until this result, could still have snuck in to the semi-final. The Sri Lankan’s tournament, over all, showed they were well deserving of being regarded as the dark horse of the 2017 tournament, but that’s a story for another day.
The semi-final results for both team show just how tight the final game should be: In semi-final one, Pakistan smashed England by a massive eight wickets, with around 13 overs to spare.
The following day, in semi-final two, India crushed Bangladesh by nine wickets, with 10 overs to spare.
The similarities are so glaring, and keeping in mind the Pakistan-India rivalry is ranked so highly in world sport, the big game promises to be just that: BIG! India is defending champions. Pakistan was ranked eighth for the tournament. The interesting comparisons keep emerging. It’s no wonder cricket fans can’t stop that grinning.
As for the players, Pakistan has really embraced an ever-rising star in Hasan Ali, with other youngsters like Fakhar Zaman also looking the goods. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed also seems so easy-going, which is sure to keep the nerves of his men at bay.
For India, the heart of the team, captain Virat Kohli, has had a good tournament overall. Any time the skipper is in fine touch and feeling relaxed, the team seems to perform okay too. He’s backed up by fellow bats Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh and quick bowler Umesh Yadav to show what a formidable side they are today, and well deserving of the finals spot.
The outcome of the final, as they say (including me) is anyone’s guess. India and Pakistan both suffered misfortune during the tournament, both also were on the receiving event of a little luck, both had hiccups along the way, and both endured the disruptions of rain. But both forged ahead, both tweaked their strategies and performances successfully along the group stage, to ensure there is a big exciting finale to the tournament.As I touched on earlier, it’s a match made in heaven. Traditional rivals. Each with the nation’s support on their shoulders. Both exciting teams. Apart from all the differences, culturally, they both love cricket.
They’re both playing well. Both very deserving finalists. And they both could very well win. It’s worth repeating: it’s the cricket lovers around the world who will be the winners.My prediction: A close game. It will come down to which side can withstand the pressure of the big occasion. India may just edge out Pakistan to win the right to hold the trophy aloft.
Richard Bruinsma is Australian Journalist, Currently working as Freelance.