India entered the tournament as one of the favorites to lift the trophy, It seemed to be dead right after the performance against Pakistan. Most of the Indian players had already won the champions trophy so the onus was on them to defend the title. They couldn’t have asked for a better opponent to start off their campaign and the players looked as though they are continuing with their big tournaments form. One doesn’t often say that India are entering with proficient bowling department but this time it looked superlatively good because of the tendency of bowlers to bowl well at any condition or at any situation of the match. During the match against Pakistan, players got off to their usual strides. Openers did their job of laying a good platform and providing stability upfront followed by Virat Kohli’s surgical stroke play and vintage Yuvraj Singh which was a perfect mix to decimate Pakistan bowling. India posted a formidable total in rain interrupted match with the help of Hardik Pandya’s blistering sixes at the end of the innings. In spite of some silly errors on the field they registered a comfortable win against the neighbors. Second match result came out of the blue, Sri Lanka who are known to raise their bars in ICC trophies had taken the revenge for their 2013 Champions trophy semi finals loss. This loss had put all the teams on equal points in the group making last two encounters as virtual quarterfinals where all four teams were vying for a semi finals spot. India had to face South Africa in their last group game, Both the teams were equally strong, both were expected to reach last four but according to the group standings only the winner of this game was able to move to next stage. After winning the toss and electing to bowl first, Indian bowlers had restricted Proteas to less than 200 which was a commendable effort. This was the 2nd consecutive time they have bowled out South Africa below 200 in ICC tournaments. The target was hardly a competitive one against a strong batting unit. Although India lost a opener early, they successfully chased it without much difficulty. This win meant that they are going to face another neighbor in Semi finals. In the semis when Bangladesh who were batting first were going hard at Indian bowling, round arm action of Kedhar Jadhav inflicted the crucial breakthrough for India. Infact Golden arm worked twice and all the hopes of tigers getting to a big total were diminished. It was another heyday for India’s top 3, with their majestic timing, artistic class India cruised to finals. Its the stellar run of Shikhar dhawan in big events which has been one of the main reason why India is in big finals. Experinced Dhoni’s inputs and his usual brilliance behind the stumps, Fast bowlers keeping up the expectations and many more have the significant contributions in India’s victories.
Unlike India, Pakistan weren’t the Favorites. There was huge pressure on them and that was seen when their captain and players faced the press conference before the tournament. Aggressive intent in the team was clearly missing. They failed to put up a fight against India. Bowling was wayward, Batting was in despair and fielding department remained mediocre. It needed some miracle to qualify for the last four stage after such substandard performance from Pakistan. Eyebrows were raised when Ahmed Shehzad was dropped just after the first match, Injured Wahab Riaz was to be replaced by Junaid Khan against South Africa but the replacements seemed to be blessing in disguise for Pakistan. Team bounced back impeccably, those set of skills from Pakistan bowlers of previous times was at display in that match and finally they managed to get rid of superior South Africa team. It was the rise of two youngsters who were impressive in Pakistan Super League and had secured the place in prestigious champions trophy squad. Pakistan were missing a batsman who can attack from the word go and Fakhar Zaman was answer to that. Unleashing him at the right time proved to be master stroke while Hassan Ali with his wholehearted effort managed to get big wickets. In the next match against Sri lanka, street smartness was exhibited by Sarfarz Ahmed he used his bowlers so well that he didn’t allow SL batting partnerships to cause any damage like it did against India. Chasing the small total wasn’t easy for them, there were hiccups in the middle but Sarfraz– Amir took them over the line. Just few minutes before Semi final, Pak management dropped a bombshell. Pace spearhead Amir had to miss the match because of minor injury and that was huge blow for them. It was a big game and the hosts who were unbeaten in the tournament were the opponents. Amir’s absence brought worry among fans as to who will replace him. Rumman Raees who flew to UK just a few days back was all set for debut. Everything went well for the green shirts, similar bowling performance like they did in their previous 2 matches and revamped fielding performance helped them to cut short all aggressive England batting lineup. Pakistan made the chase look easy and they reached finals of Champions trophy for the first time. Man with Consecutive 3 wicket hauls, Hassan Ali was named man of the match in consecutive matches. These two youngsters Hassan and Fakhar’s gameplay reminds me of young Inzamam and Wasim Akram when they had surprised the opposition teams with their talent in 1992 World cup. Hassan credits his success to Pakistan bowling coach, “we focused on our bowling. My bowling coach Azhar Mahmmod helped me a lot, he gave me the plan and i implemented it” he said.
So we are set for an all Asian finals where two captains who have led the team for first time in ICC tournaments will be facing each other. Hoping for a cracker of a game this Sunday. Cheers