India is one win away from lifting ICC Champions Trophy, or perhaps just one batting performance. They are the only unbeaten team in the tournament and have reached Final without any hiccup, for that they owe to their top order and Shikhar Dhawan in particular. Dhawan is the new batting fad from India. He has impressed masses out of the blue and is most talked about Indian at the moment.
Hark back to two odd years and no one would have thought Dhawan would be such a big factor in India’s campaign in a global event. All eyes were on the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Dhawan lived on the fringes longer than the two batsmen mentioned above but he was hardly rated in a manner Pujara and Rahane were, never mind Dhawan first starred in U19 World Cup 2004, where he was tournament’s top scorer, 505 runs at 84.16 including three centuries in seven games. India has proud history of batting and Dhawan’s emergence, even if belated, to highest level vindicates it.
Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have featured in four consecutive fifty-plus opening stands in this tournament so far and are clearly protecting the team’s middle and lower order. It is due to Dhawan’s form that the likes of Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, and to some extent Dinesh Karthik, haven’t been fully tested in the conditions favouring swing, seam and short bowling.
It goes without saying that overcoming the threat of new ball(s) in the English conditions is one of the most difficult jobs batsmen face. The Asians mostly struggle in this aspect. India did not. Sri Lanka’s four opening partnerships in this tournament read 1, 10, 8, 6 while Pakistan’s three are 2, 4, 4. Compare these to India’s mind numbing 127, 101, 58, 77, the best among all teams, let alone Asia. There have been only seven 50-plus opening partnerships in this event, four of them have come from India.
Pakistan’s all XI batsmen in three matches aggregated 478 runs, Dhawan and Sharma alone have 500. Pakistan’s batsmen in this tournament hit 38 fours, Dhawan alone has hit 33. Although Pakistan’s batting at the moment can’t be a scale to gauge any team’s strength, the contrast between Dhawan and Pakistan XI’s tallies somehow reflects on Dhawan’s good form and his massive contribution at the top order.
India would want the form of their openers to continue else they could end up in same situation Australia did in last year’s World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. Australia’s middle and late order was being protected by Shane Watson’s consistent run at top order. As soon as Watson failed in the last Super Eight game against Pakistan and Semi Final against West Indies, Australia failed too. India wouldn’t want to follow suit.
India captain MS Dhoni knows well about the lack of exposure their middle-order has received in this tournament. “The important thing is what could have been done. You are not allowed to bring your batsmen like in a warm-up game. So I think the best that we could have managed was in the practice sessions to give the guys who have not batted a bit of extra batting,” said Dhoni when he was asked if the lack of batting for the middle order was a concern for him.
India heavily relies on their batsmen however giving credit only to batting would be taking light away from the performances of their bowlers, who have been exceptional too throughout the tournament. In fact, in three out of four wins, India’s Man of the Match was a bowler – Ravi Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma against West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively. Jadeja, along with James Anderson, is the joint-second leading wicket taker of the tournament with 10 scalps and on Sunday he may end India’s campaign as the leading wicket taker.
The India bowlers really made good use of the English conditions. It helped too that they won the toss on important occasions and made use of the early moisture. Bhuvneshwar swung the ball to great affect against Pakistan whereas Ishant extracted bounce off Sophia Gardens in the Semi Final against Sri Lanka. Jadeja took five wickets in the game against West Indies and made inroads in every match at crucial stages.
“We have exploited the conditions well and have bowled at right areas. Also, what we have done is bowled in one area quite consistently. Most of our bowlers at times, they tend to look for wickets, and in these conditions what’s important is to keep bowling in the same channel and use less of variation,” said Dhoni hailing the efforts of his bowlers.
With India having batting its strength and England its bowling, a thrilling contest is in the offing on Sunday at Edgbaston. The Final is not only between the two best teams from the tournament but also between top two teams from ICC ODI Rankings – India is number one while England number two.
The final is important for individuals as well. Alistair Cook is leading England for first time in a global event and could become first English captain to win a 50-over ICC tournament. On the other hand is MS Dhoni, who could become world’s first captain to win his team all three ICC events, World T20, World Cup and Champions Trophy.
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