Kohli faces selection dilemma ahead of Pakistan clash

Against Pakistan, Virat Kohli must instead choose four of Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. A strong case can be made for all of them; it cannot be an easy decision to make.

Virat Kohli was the player of the match in India's last three meetings versus Pakistan.   -  AFP

There is a reason India goes into Sunday's Champions Trophy game at Edgbaston ranked third in the world and Pakistan eighth, having qualified for the competition by the skin of its teeth. The last time Pakistan won a one-day series of note was in 2013, away to South Africa. In the years since, the team has only put together series wins against Zimbabwe, West Indies, Ireland and Sri Lanka since, losing to Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. Earlier this year, the Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said his side was still playing limited overs cricket that “belonged in the 20th century”.

There is a sense that modern cricket has outdistanced Pakistan, a team still gloriously stuck in an age of unhurried run-accumulation, still happy to leave six hitting to one or two dashers, still fielding and running between the wickets like it's 1993. It's easy to be fooled into thinking this is an incompetent unit, though, and there has been much progress under Arthur.

"We've worked massively on strike rate," he pointed out on Saturday. "We know we're playing a different brand of cricket, in terms of awareness. Over the last 12 months, we've scored the third-most number of three-hundreds (6)."

India-Pakistan ODI statistics

This yawning gulf between the teams could, however, liberate Pakistan, the firm underdog here. It is India, instead, which has a reputation to live up to. In light of the build-up, this is a game, it seems, India simply cannot afford to lose.

Virat Kohli, player of the match in the last three meetings between the sides, has decisions to make about his eleven. The top six is more or less settled and in his press conference on Saturday, Kohli appeared to suggest that Hardik Pandya would play. The Baroda all-rounder's bowling still needs work, but his ball-striking skills, in a side that needs finishers, make him greatly useful.

Should Pandya feature, Kohli must instead choose four of Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. A strong case can be made for all of them; it cannot be an easy decision to make. “That's been on my mind in the last five-six days,” Kohli said. “In both the games, all the guys have bowled beautifully and the attack looks really balanced. But Hardik has come into the equation as an all-rounder; you can only play four bowlers apart from him. We'll have a look at the wicket and decide. There are all kinds of possibilities: two spinners, two fast bowlers; three fast bowlers and a spinner.”

Arthur announced Pakistan's 12, stating that Junaid Khan, Haris Sohail and Fakhar Zaman would not feature. Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, and Hasan Ali form a potent pace attack, with the teenaged leggie Shadab Khan and left-armer Imad Wasim spin-bowling options. This is a green side, however, with only two players – Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez – with more than 100 caps. In contrast, India has six.

In days gone by, these matches were always a battle between India's batsmen and Pakistan's bowlers. Now, it seems India is simply the better side man for man. There is only one way to prove that any rifts in the camp have no bearing on performance: win on Sunday.

WEATHER

Four years ago, when India and Pakistan met at Edgbaston, it was a wretched, rain-affected game. On Friday, the Australia-New Zealand fixture was abandoned, just like their tie in the 2013 Champions Trophy. The forecast for Sunday is scattered thunderstorms. It is supposed to be summer in Britain.

 

PITCH

India and Pakistan will be playing on the same surface that was used on Friday. During the Australia-New Zealand game, the ball did not swing at all, and Steve Smith said there was no turn in the pitch either.  "According to the groundsman, the wicket is probably going to be just a little bit quicker tomorrow," Mickey Arthur said. "I thought Australia probably adjusted a little bit too late. We eventually saw a lot of cross-seam deliveries. We saw a lot of change of pace. And I think that's how we've got to go."

 

KEY CONTESTS

Babar Azam v Umesh Yadav

Babar Azam is arguably Pakistan's best batsman. He became the second fastest in history to score five ODI hundreds (25 matches), and the joint-fastest to complete 1000 ODI runs (21 innings). After 26 one-day games, he averages 55. The 22-year-old, a cousin to Umar and Kamran Akmal, scores his runs at a fairly good clip too, a quality Pakistan desperately needs. "Babar has had an unbelievable year," Arthur said. "In one-day cricket, he's been phenomenal. His strike-rate has been great. His technique is very, very good. He runs well between wickets. There's a lot of expectation on Babar's shoulders now."

Azam has not had a great time in Test cricket, though. Earlier this year, he struggled in Australia, failing to cross 23 in six innings. Josh Hazlewood got him on four of those occasions.

Umesh Yadav, who has now added control to the pace he always had, can trouble Azam with both new ball and old. Removing him early will help India's cause no end.



Virat Kohli v Mohammad Amir

Last week, Junaid Khan spoke confidently of his record against Virat Kohli but, as it turns out, the fast bowler won't be playing on Sunday. Pakistan will instead look to another left-armer to worry Kohli. Mohammad Amir has played only four international matches against India and has not played an ODI against the opponent since his comeback. However, in last year's Asia Cup (T20) in Dhaka, Amir took three for 18, rocking India's top order with his pace and swing. Pakistan will hope he can fire again on Sundayband get rid of Kohli cheaply. For in his last three appearances against Pakistan, Kohli has been the difference between the teams. Back in India, the captain did not enjoy the greatest summer with the bat, by his standards. He will be keen to lay down a marker here.
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