If you are follower of Pakistan cricket you are guaranteed a roller-coaster ride, high on cloud nine one day and hitting the pits the next day.
But, when they get going, it’s quite a joy ride where even the mightiest of opponents are made to look like paupers.
Their performance in the current Champions Trophy tournament is a perfect example of how and what they are. Since their 124-run defeat to India in their first match, they dismantled top-ranked side South Africa, Sri Lanka and hosts England to set up a mouthwatering summit meeting with India.
Blessed with an abundance of natural talent, they always have the bowlers to tame the best of batting line-ups in the world as they have demonstrated in English conditions. Following their opening debacle where they conceded 319 runs, no other team has been able to score more than 236 runs (made by Sri Lanka) against them. South Africa and England, who possess some of biggest power-hitters in the modern game, came a cropper as they could only muster totals of 219 and 211.
The Pakistan bowlers led by the brilliant pacer Hassan Ali will once again be under the spotlight as they get their best shot at redemption when they line-up against a powerful Indian batting unit at the Oval on Sunday.
If there is any bowling that can stop the marauding Indian batsmen then it is this Pakistan bowling unit – comprising the immensely talented Mohammad Amir, provided he is fit, Hassan Ali, experienced left-arm pacer Junaid Khan, young leg-spinner Shadab Khan, the miserly left-arm spinner Imad Wasim besides the seasoned off-spin of Mohammad Hafeez.
Debutant left-arm pacer Rumman Raees is an able replacement for Amir as he showed in the first semi-final against England. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed has settled in nicely with this bunch and knows exactly when to push them in the attack for maximum effect.
As it has been throughout the tournament, the odds continue to be stacked against Ahmed’s boys in the final as well. Barring the odd blip against Sri Lanka, defending champions India have trampled all their opponents to storm into the final. Unlike Pakistan, who draw most of their strength from bowling, India have proved to be very effective with the ball as with the bat.
Besides, Virat Kohli and Co have previously played two games at the Oval which has resulted in a defeat (against Sri Lanka) and a victory (against South Africa), so they know precisely what the surface has in store.
In contrast, Pakistan will have to adapt quickly as they will be playing their first match of the tournament at the Oval.
Above all, the biggest factor that will determine the winners will not be the odds or their past displays. It will all boil down to how much self-belief Pakistan carry into the game. In the previous match they were a bunch of nervous wrecks allowing India to dictate.
If Pakistan raise their level, backed by a strong desire to win, we can expect a cracker of a contest where Ahmed’s boys can even lay their hands on the trophy. They will have to seize the key moments and run away with it but if they falter, Kohli’s boys will not give them a second chance.
The plan is simple: deny Indians the runs, the rest will take care of itself, provided Pakistan batting doesn’t have a hopeless day.
Pakistan have done exceedingly well to win three matches in a row after a heart-breaking defeat consigning their unpredictability factor to the bin. However, the big question returns to haunt them again ahead of the final: whether they have left enough gas in the tank for a fourth victory or will they get overwhelmed by the big occasion and the ‘old enemy’?
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