England vs India | Sunday 23 June | Edgbaston, Birmingham | 11:30
I don’t think anyone can dispute that the two teams pitted against each other in the final edition of the ICC Champions Trophy are the sides most deserving of their place. India have tossed aside all and sundry in the quest for glory under the cloudy English skies, while the hosts, although dropping a game against Sri Lanka, have predictably looked the best in their home conditions. It has been a Champions Trophy fraught with drama, from rain interruptions and Duckworth/Lewis ties to batting meltdowns and ball tampering allegations. It will be competition sorely missed by cricket fans, who rather are fed congested six-week T20 tournaments that, in my opinion, impinge on the quality of the international game.
England have been fortunate in this tournament. Australia and South Africa batted poorly against them, they’ve won favourable tosses and Cook was dropped three times on his way to winning the match against New Zealand. However, the luck has been manufactured from a team that applies consistent pressure and is made up of members that follow through on the roles assigned to them. There’s been plenty of talk about the skill of James Anderson and there is little doubt to his status as the best exponent of swing on the world stage. He’s in great form but there has yet to be any sign of swing from the white Kookaburra at Edgbaston, indeed conditions have ultimately been too cold to coax any movement from the air. The English batsmen are in form, especially Jonathan Trott, but will be slightly concerned by the lack of a partnership between Cook and Bell and the fragility of Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, who have yet to fire. All in all though, they will consider their problems trivial. They’ve found an adequate back-up to Graeme Swann in James Tredwell, and even a fully fit Swann may find it difficult to force his way back into the team. Bresnan and Finn will fight it out for the spot of the third seamer. They have home ground advantage on their side. They’ve just decimated rivals South Africa. In the England camp, life is good.
The Indians have been imperious. They scored 331 against South Africa and have beaten the West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all by eight wickets. As a batting lineup, it doesn’t get stronger. Shikhar Dhawan is the top run-scorer of the tournament, a full 110 runs ahead of his nearest rival with 332 runs at a staggering average of 110.66. Rohit Sharma has been the perfect opening partner with a sprinkling of half-centuries and although Virat Kohli had been uncharacteristically quiet in the group games, has found form at the right time with an unbeaten 58 against Sri Lanka in the semi-final. Dinesh Karthik has also been amongst the runs. There’s no doubt that they’re the most powerful batting line-up in the competition, with the likes of Raina, Dhoni and Jadeja to come. What has surprised has been the competence of the bowling. Ishant Sharma has been relatively inconsistent but when he gets it right, as he has on two occasions, is a handful. Yadav hits the deck hard and generates could pace at a tight line. Kumar gets the ball to swing and is deadly accurate. Then it’s the spinners, with Ravindra Jadeja extremely difficult to get away and Ravi Ashwin with his variety and ‘delay’ ball. There’s no respite. If England are to get a grip on the game, they’ll need to knock one of the spinners and one of the seamers off their line.
It has seemed a fairly middling pitch at Edgbaston, with scores not really exceeding the 240-260 mark. It will be a good contest between bat and ball, with the seamers probably enjoying conditions more than the spinners, something that could swing the match in England’s favour. There’s a hint of rain around, but let’s hope it doesn’t have too much effect with their being no replacement day scheduled.
BEST: Top Indian Batsman, Shikhar Dhawan 5/2
In not usually one to tip the same batsman twice in a row, but Dhawan’s consistency throughout the tournament cannot be ignored. He’s on a different level at the moment and although the price is shortish, it looks to be a safe bet. The only thing that would sway me is Anderson’s ability against left-handers, but I don’t think we’ll see the same type of swing that was on display at the Oval.
VERDICT: India 7/10
It’s really tough to bet against this side at the moment. One feels that England perhaps would be the only team capable of stopping them, but the Indians are yet to show any signs of weakness. I keep speaking about the influence of MS Dhoni, a veteran of tournaments and knockouts and I think it could likely be an innings from him that makes the difference. Another trophy for limited overs India.
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