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Rejuvenated Pakistan is a real threat

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Pakistan_cricket_security_Zimbabwe_tourHow many cricket pundits and experts would have predicted the number 8 ranked side to cruise to the finals of the ICC Champions Trophy? Pakistan came into the tournament as underdogs and played true to their tag in the opening game against India, showing evident lack of application with the bat, bowling far too many loose balls and slipping up in the field.

But how all that changed in two days. They were beastly in the field against the Proteas and outstanding with the ball in hand. Their spinners, who looked more timid than a sheep against the likes of Kohli and Dhawan, roared against the Proteas, cutting out the flow of runs and breaking partnerships. Their seamers were accurate and intimidating, barely giving away a loose ball while their fielding was sharper than a knife.

Two more days later, they were set to play Sri Lanka in a virtual quarter-final. Despite a brilliant performance with the ball yet again, their batting let them down. Tottering at 162/7 in a chase of 237, Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir, with the help of Sri Lanka’s own fielding mishaps, managed to take the Pakistanis to the semis.

They had the daunting task of beating the team of the tournament, England, in the semi-finals, in front of their home crowd. Not only did Pakistan beat them, but they virtually cakewalked over the English with such ease that it was a disgrace to the ICC's ranking system.

Now they have a home final against their arch-rivals, India, with millions of fans cheering them on from home and in the ground. The result of India-Pakistan games in ICC tournaments is well known, but there are reasons to believe that this time around Pakistan might have just found the right formula to grab a win. Here are a few of them.

#3 The super sharp skipper

When Pakistan decided to remove Azhar Ali as skipper, not many frowned upon the decision and even fewer discussed it. Pakistan are known for jumping from one captain to another, with Misbah-ul-Haq a rare exception. But when Sarfraz Ahmed was handed over the reins quite a few eyebrows were raised. After all, the wicket-keeper batsman was yet to establish himself in the side.

But against England, in the all important semi-final, Sarfraz Ahmed showed shrewd judgement and made the right bowling changes, choking the England batsmen with his fielders positioned to perfection. Sarfraz stunned many with his captaincy skills and won more admirers than in the Sri Lanka game, where he played a match winning knock to take his team home.

While India present a tough challenge to Pakistan, a confident captain is a team's strength and unlike the many Pakistani captains in the past few years, Sarfraz has the knack of getting things right when the pressure is on.

#2 A highly skilled bowling unit

India faced Pakistan in their first match of the tournament and despite struggling at the start, they found their groove towards the end courtesy a Yuvraj Singh special and reached a rather high total. However, the batting was barely tested against Sri Lanka, South Africa and Bangladesh in the following matches.

The template for team India is to start slow, preserve wickets and attack towards the end. It is a winning formula no doubt, but the pressure is on the Indians to attack in the middle overs. This is where a highly skilled Pakistan bowling unit comes to the fore. If Amir is fit, they boast three relentless quick bowlers with Hasan Ali earning reputation as a strike force in the tournament. Junaid is a vastly improved bowler and was exemplary since his first game, which came after the match against India.

The Pakistan spinners have excelled in choking batsmen with little room in the middle overs and the fielding has been a lot more confident since the first game. If the confident Pakistan do turn up, India will struggle to ease through like they did in the first game. Besides, the Indian middle order hasn't really been tested this tournament and Pakistan could emerge victorious if they manage to break through past the likes of Kohli.

#1 The emergence of Fakhar Zaman

If India brush aside Pakistan's one big change since the first game of the tournament, they might have to pay a huge price. Fakhar Zaman has been a revelation for Pakistan at the top of the order. Replacing an out of sorts Ahmed Shehzad, Zaman has been the perfect foil to Azhar Ali.

While the former skipper thrives when playing his natural game at a strike rate touching the 80s, Zaman loves to have a go at the bowlers. India could tie down Tamim Iqbal and Quinton de Kock but Fakhar Zaman brings with him a fearlessness that only less experienced batsmen possess. He was instrumental in Pakistan's surge to the finals and will be a huge threat to India's new ball bowlers.

 

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