The face of Indian cricket has changed over the last few years what with the emphasis laid on youth. Youngsters have shown vigour and daring, added to on-field aggression. This MS Dhoni-led side represents the youth policy and has looked a tough side that is improving rapidly.
On Saturday, this young bunch faces another stern test against arch-rivals, Pakistan, in the Kitply tri-series final. Every India-Pakistan clash is keenly followed with just the thought of it arousing passion and interest. Games have fluctuated and the winner has often been decided on the last ball. There have been numerous high-voltage dramas in the past and there's hope that the tri-series final will provide one tighter encounter. Going by the formbook India have the edge.
On Tuesday, the Men in Blue handed Shoaib Malik's men their biggest defeat against India (in terms of runs). They were equally merciless against Bangladesh on Thursday night.
Pakistan have problems on hand. Despite winning a couple of one-day series against weak sides, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they've looked deficient when pitted against tougher opposition. In fact, just after their huge loss to India, they were pulled up by the PCB chief through an email, the contents of which were leaked. Infighting has been their bane in the past and they are known to succumb under pressure. But team manager, Talat Ali, maintains that the morale of the team is high and that everyone is geared up for the final.
Shoaib Malik's moves in the 140-run loss against India were difficult to comprehend. He was criticised by the Pakistani journalists for dropping Fawad Alam on a spin-friendly pitch, and picking a seamer instead.
He was asked, "Are you afraid of bowling against stronger teams like India?" Though Malik tried hard to convince them that he bowled his own offspin against the brightest and the best, the journalists stuck to their stance.
Pakistan's top-order surrendered meekly to Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma, and the formalities were completed by Piyush Chawla. Dhoni has a tough decision on his hands — should he omit RP Singh and bring back Ishant Sharma, who was rested for the match against Bangladesh, or go with RP, who picked up three wickets when given a go?
India's batting looks solid. The ferocious starts that Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir combine has given them and the kind of touch the others are in hasn't left much room for changes. The last time the two met in a tri-nation final was in April 1999 in Sharjah when Wasim Akram's Pakistan trounced Mohammad Azharuddin's side by eight wickets.
From then on, the contests have been evenly fought. In fact, India have won 11 and lost just 8 in the last 20 games.
India: MS Dhoni (captain), Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Pragyan Ojha & Manpreet Gony.
Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (captain), Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshaid, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Sohail Khan, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Rao Iftikhar, Wahab Riaz, Fawad Alam, Bazid Khan and Nomanullah.