India Favourites For Final Encounter With Pakistan
Matches between India and Pakistan, and certainly when the two are in a final, rarely disappoint and two sides go head to head on Saturday in the Kitply Tri-Nation series final on Saturday. India are firm favourites on the back of two crushing wins and Pakistan reeling, not just from a record 140-run loss to their rivals, but the comments of PCB chief Dr. Nasim Ashraf, who branded that display "embarrassing."
That game ended Pakistan's run of 12 One Day International victories in a row (most against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) and there were signs of rustiness, particularly in the field while their batting lacked the assuredness and confidence that the Indian side is exuding at the moment.
Under most pressure will be Kamran Akmal, whose performance was branded "pathetic" by Ashraf after he was caught out claiming a catch that he had grassed. His batting didn't do him any favours but with no other wicket-keepers in the squad, the coaching staff will be unable to follow Ashraf's advice to find somebody else to keep wicket.
India though, are on the crest of a wave - following their ICC World Twenty20 win in South Africa, they have beaten Australia in the Commonwealth Bank series, seen many of their players excel in the Indian Premier League and crushed both Bangladesh and Pakistan to coast into the final.
What makes their performances all the more impressive is that they are without Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Sachin Tendulkar through injury and Harbhajan Singh is banned. Not to mention the likes of Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, who have been left behind by the next generation of sure-footed and sure-handed Indians, of whom Piyush Chawla, Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa are leading the way.
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have formed an explosive opening partnership in the absence of Tendulkar, with Gambhir equally adept at number three and is one of world cricket's form players at the moment, underlining his skill with an unbeaten century against Bangladesh.
Pakistan are also missing key men - Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar to disciplinary issues which means the inexperienced bowling attack of Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul are charged with one of the most difficult tasks in world cricket at the moment: keeping Sehwag and Gambhir quiet.
Even if they manage that, Yuvraj Singh, Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan are all capable of tearing them apart. Pakistan's own batting line up of Salman Butt, Younus Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq should be a match for any, but Salman Butt aside, none are in any sort of form, which is proving just one of the many reasons why India are a step or ten ahead.
Without the runs on the board, and with a young bowling attack that still concedes far too many wides and no balls, Pakistan are unable to build a platform from which to attack. Captain Shoaib Malik and coach Geoff Lawson are fast coming under pressure themselves, and heading into the Asia Cup later this year, they must find answers, and quickly, to the searching questions that India tomorrow, and Sri Lanka later this year will pose if they are not to slip further down the rankings.
8th June: Pakistan 233 beat Bangladesh 163-8 by 70 runs (D/L)
10th June: India 330-8 beat Pakistan 190 by 140 runs
12th June: India 222-3 beat Bangladesh 221 by seven wickets
Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain, wicket-keeper), Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, RP Singh
Kamran Akmal (wicket-keeper), Salman Butt, Younus Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik (captain), Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar, Wahab Riaz
This will be the 115th meeting between the two sides, meaning they have played each other more than any other two nations. Pakistan lead the head to head 66-44 with four no results, but India have won three of their last four meetings.
Three of Pakistan's players (Kamran Akmal, Younus Khan and Sohail Tanvir) played in the IPL-winning side Rajasthan Royals to India's one (Yusuf Pathan) but it is India who have called up Pathan, Manpreet Gony, Raina and Pragyan Ojha after impressive tournaments. Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi and Umar Gul all disappointed for the Bangalore Royal Challengers, Deccan Chargers and the Kolkata Knight Riders
Cricket World® verdict:
India to go into the Asia Cup on the back of another win over their rivals. Dhoni has an impressive captaincy record and his spinners will enjoy another outing on a nicely-worn Dhaka pitch. Expect an improvement from Pakistan as they could hardly have been worse in the last match, but not by enough to keep India from winning.
© Cricket World 2008