India, England to meet in Champions Trophy final
With its national game embroiled in corruption allegations and its national team supposedly in transition, India arrived at the Champions Trophy as the world’s top-ranked one-day side but with few giving them a chance.
However, just like Italy’s football team emerged from adversity and scandal at home to win World Cups in 1982 and 2006, India’s new-look class of 2013 is proving a resilient bunch.
Heading into Sunday’s final against Trophy host England, the Indians have won four from four, their bowlers have come to relish unfamiliar English conditions, and bearded opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan has become the star of the tournament.
The era of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag will long be revered but their replacements have signaled over the past two weeks that the future can be bright without them.
Only three players — Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and captain MS Dhoni — played in India’s victory over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in 2011 and will likely turn out against the English at Edgbaston, but the inexperience isn’t showing.
“If we can bowl to our field and play to our strengths, we will do well against any team,” India paceman Ishant Sharma said. “We have not been under pressure in this tournament so far and we really don’t know where our real weaknesses lie.
“We’ll stick to the plans and we’ll stick to our strengths, just carry on doing the same thing in the final.”
While India has been playing against the backdrop of a spot-fixing scandal involving players and officials in the Indian Premier League, England’s Champions Trophy campaign is being seen by its supporters as merely a taster ahead of the real business of this summer — the Ashes series.
At least in public, England’s players aren’t seeing it that way. Their team has never won a world 50-over event, having lost in the finals of both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy over the past two decades. The Ashes can wait for one more weekend.
“The past is the past, and we can’t change anything about it. So there is no point worrying about it,” said England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. “This is a great chance to right those wrongs.”
If the hosts are to break its 50-over tournament drought, they will need a brilliant bowling performance from James Anderson and Co. in Birmingham.
Dhawan has emerged from the shadows of Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir and been a revelation, scoring a tournament-high 332 runs in four innings. That included centuries in group matches against South Africa and West Indies and a 68 in the semifinal victory over Sri Lanka on Thursday.
Light on his feet and punishing anything outside off stump, the left-handed Dhawan has played with a swagger to thrill Indian fans who will be at Edgbaston en masse on Sunday. Even if he fails, with Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Raina and Dhoni to come in in the batting lineup, India won’t be concerned.
In the absence of Kevin Pietersen, England hasn’t been as fluent with the bat — the team hasn’t reached 300 yet — but Jonathan Trott is the third highest run-scorer in the tournament and is always a steadying influence at No. 3 in the order, despite his critics in the English media.
“I think the most important thing is winning cricket matches — that’s all I try and do, be part of a winning team,” said Trott, who will be playing at the ground of his county team Warwickshire. “The England team as long as I’ve been playing, nearly four years, has been on an upward angle and I’m really happy to see that.
“Hopefully we can start winning trophies, here on Sunday and at the World Cup maybe.”
Meanwhile, England’s bowlers have been getting more movement with the ball than any other team in this tournament but India’s attack hasn’t been far behind.
Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav have been disciplined and bowled a good length, all the time being ably assisted by spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. Some feat for a unit used to such different conditions on the subcontinent. Even Dhoni felt confident enough to strip off the pads and have a bowl in the semi against Sri Lanka.
England may be at home but India has steamrolled allcomers, and will be able to count on huge support.
It adds up to India being the favorite to claim the Champions Trophy and cement its position as the king of one-day cricket.