ICC Champions Trophy: How Pakistan can tame India, the giant prize-master

India start favourites in the ICC Champions Trophy final on Sunday, Pakistan can wrest the initiative with a positive and smart approach.

icc champions trophy 2017 Updated: Jun 17, 2017 19:47 IST
Sidharth Gulati
Sidharth Gulati
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
ICC Champions Trophy,Champions Trophy 2017,India vs Pakistan
Pakistan will take on arch-rivals India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final at The Oval in London on Sunday.(Reuters)

For the first time in 10 years, India and Pakistan will face off in the finale of an ICC tournament. The Men in Blue haven’t had a great run in ODIs in the past two years, but their performance in the eighth edition of the Champions Trophy has brought them on the verge of becoming a record three-time winners at the Oval on Sunday.

On the other hand, Sarfraz Ahmed-led Pakistan have played their best cricket so far in the tournament and the way they outclassed hosts and hot favourites England in the semi-finals was a treat to watch.

READ | India v Pakistan, Champions Trophy final: ‘Sarfraz’s chance to create a legacy’

But on Sunday, Pakistan will be up against a team that has done exceeding well in big tournaments, especially in the last seven years. Two trophies, one final and two semi-finals is not a bad record at all.

With Virat Kohli’s team ticking almost all boxes, can the ever mercurial Pakistan defy the odds and become the fourth team to win all three ICC trophies (50-over World Cup, World T20 and the Champions Trophy)? Well, this is how they can:

Catches Win Matches - This Theory Doesn’t Change

If Pakistan had not grappled with the age-old problem of dropped catches, India wouldn’t have defeated them by a mammoth 124 runs (Duckworth-Lewis method) in their ICC Champions Trophy opener. They had a chance to restrict the defending champions to around 270 but once Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli got an extra life, the duo smashed close to 100 runs in the last six overs.

Had Pakistan fielders not dropped Sachin Tendulkar four times in the 2011 World Cup semifinals, the story could have been different, India going on to win the title at home. Let’s not forget Rahat Ali’s drop of Shane Watson off Wahab Riaz in the quarters of 2015 World Cup.

Even on their best days with bat and ball, Pakistan have remained poor in the field. And on their bad days they’ve got even worse.

READ | ‘It’s India’s batting vs Pakistan’s bowling in ICC Champions Trophy final’

Every side in the world has bettered its fielding standards in the past decade or so, but when it comes to Pakistan, there would be accounts of endless dropped catches.

In fact, Pakistan’s South African coach, Mickey Arthur was blunt about where the team stood in these comments made in April.

“I’ve told the players that we were playing cricket that belonged in the 20th century. We hadn’t embraced the new modern game yet, and that was for a number of reasons, like not playing at home, or [not] having the exposure to the IPL that the rest of the world has had.”

India captain Virat Kohli and Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed pose with the ICC Champions Trophy at The Oval in London on Saturday. (AP)

Come Sunday, Sarfraz’s men must grab the chances they get as one drop, in all likelihood, could make the difference between victory and defeat for them.

Pull Off A Major Surprise - In Terms Of Strategy

The 30 overs of Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan and the tournament’s leading wicket-taker Hasan Ali will hold the key to Pakistan’s chances at The Oval. But what if India’s openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who have plundered a total of 621 runs in four innings, are successful in continuing their rampant run? Well, the preceding statement speaks for itself.

In such a scenario, the norm of handing the ball to your best bowler might not work. The idea of having two spinners from both ends towards the start of the innings could be a good option. Shoaib Malik or Mohammad Hafeez (both off-spin) to Dhawan and Imad Wasim (left-arm orthodox) to Rohit.

READ | India vs Pakistan, ICC Champions Trophy Final: ‘PAK has nothing to lose’

It has been established that even if Rohit-Shikhar start slowly, both possess the ability to accelerate later on. For Pakistan’s spinners, it would be about two good deliveries in the first 8-10 overs. A little bit of drift and leg before opportunities could open up. Plus, an ill-timed shot can hand opposition the advantage.

Let’s take the example of 2016 World T20 final between West Indies and England. Even though Liam Plunkett, David Willey and Ben Stokes had bowled well throughout the tournament, it took Joe Root’s special, in the second over of the West Indies chase, to get rid of openers Chris Gayle and Johnson Charles.

Even though Darren Sammy’s men won, with Carlos Brathwaite’s flurry of final over sixes off Stokes, England skipper Eoin Morgan’s tactical brilliance was one of the highlights.

Defeat India Mentally - The Most Important Of All

There are many ways to defeat your opposition mentally in sport. It could be sledging, establishing dominance, staying one step ahead of your opponent by anticipating their next move and much more. In this case, it would purely be about how Pakistan are able to break India’s rhythm.

READ | India vs Pakistan, ICC Champions Trophy Final: 5 most memorable clashes

The case in point is India’s loss against Sri Lanka. Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis showed why sometimes the best form of defence is attack. In pursuit of 322, Sri Lanka lost Niroshan Dickwella early but that didn’t hinder the other batsmen from playing their natural game, and going after the Indian bowlers.

When Pakistan were chasing 324 at Edgbaston, their middle-order played with an intent to provide stability, which stopped the flow of boundaries and resulted in a nightmare. In Sri Lanka’s case, the plan was simple. They lost Gunathilaka and Mendis at crucial intervals, but never seemed out of control. Their shot selection was clinical and they seized the moment. Even Kohli was in awe of SL’s batting approach, and openly admitted it.

Whether India bat first or bowl, it shouldn’t matter to Pakistan. All they need to focus on is not allowing Virat Kohli’s team to settle down, even for a small period.

But if that happens, it is obvious which team will be under immense pressure.

First Published: Jun 17, 2017 19:33 IST