An India v Pakistan final is about as big an occasion as the ICC could have hoped for, but few would have foreseen Pakistan going the distance in the tournament given the nature of its defeat to its greatest rivals earlier in the tournament.
Pakistan’s shock defeat of the in-form host England has set up what’s undoubtedly the most important meeting of the two sides in recent memory.
When recapping the game at Lord’s between South Africa and England before the tournament, I made a point of pointing out that the best sides, despite sticking to their method wherever possible, analyse conditions well. On that occasion, England was the creator of its own downfall in playing some loose cricket shots, without doing the ‘hard yards’ that even the modern-day batsmen must be prepared to put in every now and again.
This was another example of some poor game management from Eoin Morgan’s side.
Having seen Pakistan’s record at this tournament, England should have re-evaluated its plans, looking to put a score of around 270-280 on the board, which would have allowed the bowlers the opportunity to go about creating pressure. I truly believe that it would have been able to defend a score in that region, but the way it played suggested to me that it was going to try and bat Pakistan completely out of the game.
I see a missing cog in the England batting machine, in that if the pitch hasn’t played to its initial game plan, as a team, it has failed to find a lower gear and simply get itself to a score. Not every track will allow you to hit through the line and play the brand of expansive cricket that has, admittedly, launched England to being one of the most dangerous short form sides in world cricket.
However, as a batting unit, England will be mighty disappointed in terms of the manner in which its basic approach to the innings let it down against Pakistan.
Throughout the tournament, Pakistan has proven that its bowling is its stronger suit with the skill and guile of players like Hassan Ali and Imad Wasim, who’ve both impressed me hugely.
As a team, Pakistan has been masterful in terms of how it squeezes teams and applies pressure consistently. England was never given the opportunity to score freely, and it was an exemplary display of disciplined one-day bowling from Pakistan.
I’m a huge advocate of getting your spinners into the game early in one-day cricket, something Pakistan has done effectively so far. Both Imad and Mohammad Hafeez have bowled straight and in a very clever way in this tournament. They’re not big turners of the ball, but what they contribute in terms of building pressure is invaluable to their captain.
Despite how well this Pakistan team has bowled, it will need a few factors to go its way if it is going to go on to win the ultimate prize and beat its arch-rivals India for the trophy itself.
I would predict that Pakistan will look to bowl first if it wins the toss, and work to restrict India to a total within its reach. Batting first, and setting a score, has been a tough ask throughout the knockout phase of the tournament so far, and I don’t see that as Pakistan’s strength.
This Indian team is in sensational form, and as it so often does, it’s peaking at the right time. It had the simpler route to the final in terms of facing Bangladesh in its semi-final, but the clinical fashion in which it went about picking Bangladesh off was still a show of its confidence as a side.
Having your top order hit form at a tournament is key, and with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, it has built solid platforms all the way through the competition.
India dealt with Pakistan pretty severely in the first meeting of the sides in the group stages. That won’t mean everything, but it’s certainly a big ask of Pakistan to lay that performance to rest and front up to the challenge that awaits it on Sunday.
For the tournament’s sake, I hope we see a closer game of cricket than we did in the two semi-finals, as well as a mutual respect and enjoyment of the spectacle from the opposing fans.
One guarantee is that players and fans are to be treated to an electric atmosphere at The Oval. The smart choice, given its quality and form, would be India. However, Pakistan has already shown that it is more than capable of surprises.
Graeme Smith’s article originally appeared on icc-cricket.com.