BY WASIM PARKAR – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
The ICC Champions Trophy 2013 final is upon us, and few cricket lovers can dispute that the two best teams, India and England are going to fight tooth and nail to become winners of the tournament. I look at the key battles:
The best opening partnership vs. the best opening bowler
In the blue corner, the duo of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. Dhawan is the leading run-scorer in the tournament with 332 runs at an average of 110.66 and a strike rate of 99.40. Sharma has scored 168 runs at an average of 42 and a strike rate of 76.71. Together as an opening partnership they have scored 363 runs at an average of 90.75 and a strike rate of 93.79.
In the red corner, with the white ball, is England’s master of swing, James Anderson. Anderson has taken 10 wickets at an average of 12.70 while conceding only 3.84 runs an over. He has managed to dismiss opposition batsmen once every three overs. This despite conditions not truly to his liking.
Dhawan and Sharma have been stupendous throughout the tournament, but they face arguably their toughest task on Sunday. Anderson has proven that the best exponents of swing don’t rely only on the conditions. His ability to beat batsmen on a good length, poses a significant threat to India’s openers, neither of who are hesitant to drive.
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The game could come potentially hinge on these opening salvos. If Dhawan and Sharma survive Anderson, they will have the confidence to go after the rest of the English attack. If Anderson manages to prizes them out, India’s middle order will have its first real test in the tournament
How to play Ravindra Jadeja
Ravindra Jadeja has arguably been the bowler of the tournament alongside Anderson. Jadeja has developed from a part-time bowler who just turns his arm over, to a spinner who really thinks about his deliveries. It has been a joy to watch him dismiss accomplished players of spin by varying his length and pace. Crucially, he also has the knack of taking wickets at the right time, often breaking crucial partnerships and then knocking two or three wickets in succession.
England will certainly have to work out a strategy to combat Jadeja’s prowess. I think, the players who will be most comfortable against him are England’s top three with their classical techniques. Thus it will be crucial for one of Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott or Ian Bell to survive till the middle overs, when Jadeja is introduced into the attack. Joe Root is also a good player of spin, and has experienced negating Jadeja successfully on his debut. However, it might be a better idea for England to send Ravi Bopara ahead of Eoin Morgan and Jos Butler, because of his ability to play spin. If Jadeja snares a wicket or two, England’s innings could unravel quickly.
The slog overs
Despite England and India being the two best teams on display, they both share a weakness in bowling during the slog overs. Of course this particular deficiency wasn’t exposed in their easy semi-final victories, but time and again both teams have leaked too many runs at the business end of the innings.
On current form, I would say India are better placed to take advantage of any slack bowling in the death overs, simply because they have big hitters right from Dhawan, Sharma and Virat Kohli at the top, through to Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja in the middle order.
England’s big hitters have been too inconsistent in recent matches. Bopara had a splendid outing against Sri Lanka, scoring 28 in the final over of the innings, and as suggested before would be worth giving him the first opportunity in the slog overs. Morgan simply hasn’t delivered in ODI’s lately, while Butler for all his promise and potential has only delivered one match-winning performance.
All pre-tournament predictions have been laid to rest. There has hardly been any swing on offer, good batsmen have been able to play their strokes, and boundaries and sixes have been on display fairly regularly despite the larger boundaries in England.
The prevailing logic is that in true English conditions, England have a clear advantage of India. I am not sure that it is necessarily the case. There is no doubt, that if England do get the new ball in damp conditions, Anderson poses a significant threat to India’s batting. However, even in tough conditions India’s batsmen are unlikely to capitulate in a similar manner to that of South Africa.
By the same token, it isn’t a given that if the conditions favour batting India would be clear favourites. James Tredwell has proven both in the subcontinent and in this tournament, that he can exert a strong measure of control bowling his spin in the middle overs on batsmen friendly tracks. Furthermore, despite initial scepticism including from yours truly, Jonathan Trott and Alistair Cook have proven that you don’t have to possess an aggressive or innovative game to succeed in scoring quickly on featherbeds.
I think what we have learnt through this tournament is that both teams have the ability to adjust their game plans to different conditions, and more importantly adapt to evolving match situations. Ultimately it might just come down to which team handles the occasion better than the conditions.