For two nations smitten with the game of cricket, an India-Pakistan final in a prestigious tournament like the 2017 Champions Trophy is no mundane affair. It's an event that transcends a cricketing rivalry. For passionate cricket fans in both these nations, success in an India-Pakistan final often asserts an instant, unspoken political and regional supremacy of sorts. India and Pakistan are both crippled by divisions of religion, caste, and creed, yet, on days of a cricketing contest between the two countries, only two breeds of citizens exist – Indians and Pakistanis. Such is the enormity of a cricketing encounter in this part of the world.
So first things first—a big pat on the back of the Pakistan cricket team for standing up tall in the Champions Trophy Final on 18 June 2017. They started the match with an evident intent to be aggressive in their approach, which they sustained throughout the game. Notwithstanding the disappointment of the loss as an Indian, it was heartening to see the jubilation of the Pakistan players. They were the underdogs coming into the final but through sheer determination and grit, they outclassed a star studded Indian line-up.
Batting line-ups may win matches for you but a potent bowling attack will win you tournaments—a sentiment echoed by Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood in a recent interview.
However, once you look beyond this result and try and cast a cricketing opinion about these two cricketing nations it becomes evident that it is a tale of two long running uncertainties—the inherent unpredictability associated with Pakistan cricketing teams, and the lack of bowling prowess in the Indian ranks.
As the old adage goes "there is a lesson to be learnt in every defeat." For India, there is an evident one from their loss against Pakistan: batting line-ups may win matches for you but a potent bowling attack will win you tournaments—a sentiment echoed by Pakistan bowling coach Azhar Mahmood in a recent interview.
India only lost two games in the 2017 Champions Trophy—one against Sri Lanka during the group stage, and the other one being the final against Pakistan. The strong Indian batting line-up fired against Sri Lanka with a 300 plus score, only to be let down by their bowling effort. Sri Lanka conquered the 300 plus total with relative ease. The final against Pakistan revealed the flip side—a determined Pakistan batting outfit saw off an erratic Indian bowling endeavour to post a mighty target (339) that crushed the much-touted Indian batting bigwigs.
Batting line-ups, no matter how strong, are destined to fail every now and then. Indian cricket has historically held a tendency to rely heavily on its batting line-ups to win big matches, and more often than not this has held them back from winning title matches. The 2003 ICC World Cup final against Australia, the 2015 ICC World Cup semi-final against Australia, and the 2017 Champions Trophy Final against Pakistan, all highlight the plight of the Indian cricket teams during contests in which their bowling attacks were ruthlessly plundered. For all their repute and fame, the Indian batters were not able to save the day for India in each of these high-profile matches.
For Indian cricket, and its energetic and ambitious leader Virat Kohli, the focus has to be on unearthing young, freak fast-bowling talents and nurturing them into match winners.
India has a much-improved bowling attack these days for the one-day format of the game. However, it is a competitive bowling outfit at best. It lacks the 'X-Factor' that's so evident in batting. The Indian cricket team's mindset seems to focus on winning matches by choking the opposition on an overdose of spin in the middle overs. But there is no plan B, it seems, if the spin option was to fail or backfire (as it happened against Pakistan on the 18th of June).
Teams like Pakistan on the other hand can be surprise packages in big matches purely because of the bite in their bowling attacks. Give them a handful of runs to defend and they turn on their wizardry with seam, swing, reverse swing, and brute pace. Their challenge remains the opposite of India—to find a consistent batting line-up.
For Indian cricket, and its energetic and ambitious leader Virat Kohli, the focus has to be on unearthing young, freak fast-bowling talents and nurturing them into match winners. Kohli's team has pulled India out of the shadow of being a "poor fielding unit." Similarly, Kohli must exert his leadership to arm the Indian cricket team with a formidable pace bowling attack—something that has never been associated with Indian teams throughout the history of the game.
So let's hope that the guardians of Indian cricket wake up to this reality, for if they don't, fans will have to rely on prayer more than performance to win those big matches.