Pakistan barely managed to sneak into the Champions Trophy as the 8th ranked team. The way they were outplayed in the game against India justified their ranking and almost gave us a glimpse of their future in the tournament.
Most, including their own, had written them off. Their cricket board had constituted a three-man enquiry committee to probe into their loss against India. And then something changed.
They dropped Ahmed Shehzad for debutant Fakhar Zaman and started the bowling attack with two seam bowlers; Mohammad Hafeez was given a ball and the team was transformed.
Pakistan choked South Africa, got a little lucky against Sri Lanka, downed England in style and then brought their A game in the finals and returned the favour to India.
Pakistan’s rise will always be scripted by their bowlers and in Amir, Junaid, Hasan and Shadab, they seemed to have found a match-winning combination. If they could somehow unearth one more Fakhar Zaman, their rise would not be limited to one Champions Trophy title.
On the other hand, India found out that while winning the Champions Trophy title is tough, retaining the crown is a lot tougher. Despite getting lucky with the draw (India didn’t play Australia, New Zealand and England), they fell short at the final frontier.
Before we discuss the lessons learnt from the campaign, it’s important to acknowledge the way India played in crunch situations. The way they annihilated South Africa and Bangladesh after the loss to Sri Lanka was a good indicator of how good this team can be.
Pandya The Batsman
Virat Kohli invested a lot of faith in Hardik Pandya, which the all-rounder justified in the finals. It was only the third time he finished his quota of 10 overs in his young ODI career and the way he batted showed that he’s arguably the cleanest hitter in this team.
Pandya hit more sixes than any other batsman in the tournament despite playing only a handful of deliveries. While his bowling still needs work (he must start bowling a lot fuller), his batting looks ready to take over the mantle of finishing from Yuvraj-Dhoni.
Swing is King
Flat batting surfaces have made speed an over-rated asset and the only way to thrive with the white ball is to make it swing in the air. Even when most Indian bowlers were taken for runs, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was exceptional both with the new and old the ball.
Barring the game against Pakistan, his partner Jasprit Bumrah also showcased why he’s been rated highly by all and sundry. It’s time we thank the IPL for giving us two bowlers who can be trusted to be as effective as some of the best death-over bowlers.
Looking at Pakistan’s rise to the top, it was perhaps prudent to play either Mohd Shami or Umesh Yadav throughout. As they say, batsmen win you matches and bowlers win you tournaments. India was always a bowler light.
Considering the way both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma combined to provide a solid and stable start almost every single time, it’s wise to put the opening combination debate to bed in the 50-over format.
While there were no doubts about Rohit’s place, there were enough skeptics about persisting with Dhawan at the top. The southpaw has showed that he’s not just cracked the ODI code but has almost mastered it. He’s a creature of confidence and Virat’s faith in his abilities has paid rich dividends.
Middle Over Conundrum
If there’s one area that needs addressing in 50-over cricket, it is India’s ability to pick wickets and score briskly in the middle-overs. If it weren’t for Kedar Jadhav’s golden arm, Bangladesh would’ve scored over 320 runs.
Out of the four wickets that India took against Pakistan, one came courtesy a run-out and Jadhav took one. Ashwin and Jadeja haven’t been as effective as the team would’ve liked, and it allowed the opposition to pile on the pressure.
Since most teams go slow in the first ten overs, it’s critical to look for wickets in the middle-overs and, unfortunately, it didn’t happen for India. Similarly, while batting, Indian progress got somewhat halted in the 31-40th over. Most teams’ look to accelerate post the 30th over and prepare for the final push, India could only do it if two of the top three were around and seldom after being 3-down at the 30-over mark.
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