After two weeks and fourteen games of cricket in the 2013 Champions Trophy, there are two teams left standing to contest the 99th and last match of this tournament, which first began as a knock-out competition in 1998. Hosts England and world ODI champions India will lock horns at Edgbaston this Sunday hoping to lay hands on the second-most coveted international 50-overs trophy.
While India have been unbeaten so far, having recorded convincing group stage wins over South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan followed by an equally dominating performance over Sri Lanka in the semi-final yesterday, England had a blip when they failed to defend a big score against Sri Lanka in the group stage, the loss sandwiched between victories against Australia and New Zealand which were enough to see them through to the semi-final, where they signalled their intent by beating South Africa in a canter.
India’s march to the final has been quite surprising, given that of late, they have flattered to deceive when it comes to playing in alien conditions, especially in England, where they were steamrolled in both the Test series and the ODI’s in 2011. However, the current ODI team have shown renewed zeal, which had been missing ever since India lifted the 2011 World Cup. Struggling senior players have been rightly sidelined and replaced with those who truly deserve to be in the squad. The selectors were repeatedly panned for not taking bold steps after India lost at home to England in the Test series and to Pakistan in the ODI series, but at last some gumption has been shown on their part and the results are here to see.
India’s biggest success story has been Shikhar Dhawan. The 27-year old Delhi southpaw, who stormed into Test cricket with a blitzing knock against Australia in March, has continued his rich vein of form into the Champions Trophy, and has been a godsend for the team in relation the opening slot, which was an area of deep concern to the think-tank until recently. Even if he fails in the final, he is a strong candidate for being the player of the tournament. His starts at the top along with the talented but inconsistent Rohit Sharma – who has also found the opening position to his liking – have been pivotal in ensuring that the good work of the bowlers has not been wasted. Another player who appears to be improving with every game is Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. The lanky medium pacer’s ability to swing the ball both ways has led to him taking key wickets at the top while maintaining an impressive economy rate, and has risen to become India’s pace spearhead just six months after his debut. Ravindra Jadeja’s stifling spin bowling and the side’s sudden transformation into a high-class fielding side have also contributed to the India’s unbeaten run thus far.
On the other hand, hosts England will come into the final as the only top team not to have won an ICC 50-overs tournament. Over the last couple of years, England have developed into a solid ODI team and at present are a much more improved unit than they have ever been since they pioneered one-day cricket more than four decades ago. Even in the absence of Kevin Pietersen, England have exploited familiar conditions, with the main performers being Jonathan Trott and James Anderson. Trott has made a mockery of those who consider his batting as ‘slow’ and ‘unattractive’ by churning out vital knocks at a strike rate of close to 90. His presence in the middle order in combination with England’s latest talent Joe Root have ensured that the team has not found wanting while batting in testing situations.
In the bowling department, spearhead James Anderson’s form is sure to worry the Australians ahead of the Ashes. He was outstanding against New Zealand and South Africa, and has found support from the under-rated off-spinner James Tredwell. Anderson, who has been bowling quite splendidly this summer, has given England the sort of value that someone like Dale Steyn brings to South Africa, and quite a lot will depend upon his bowling spells in the final. The rest of the bowling attack has blown hot and cold though, and over-dependence on Anderson may prove costly against the in-form Indian top-order. Besides giving England their first major ODI title, a win will also put them in a very confident state of mind with the Ashes around the corner, though that is not to say that the focus of the team can afford to be shifted.
India have had two famous ODI successes in England – first when they won the 1983 World Cup and later the 2002 NatWest Tri Series, both at Lord’s, and at both times defying the odds. This is an opportunity to add to that list and also seal their status as the top-ranked ODI side. Whereas England have their best possible chance to win a rare title – the last time they came this close was when they finished runners up in the 2004 Champions Trophy, also at home.