India can hold its head high despite final fall

India saved its worst performance for the last game of the tournament, and Pakistan its best. Kohli has a powerful, balanced side with no major rebuilding required over the next two years. It would be silly to make too much of one defeat.

Virat Kohli’s team did everything right throughout the tournament, except in the final.   -  AP

India’s loss in the final of the Champions Trophy was a disappointment but it was no disaster. Virat Kohli's men did consistently well for a fortnight, and were outplayed on Sunday by an invigorated side, something the captain had no problem admitting.

India saved its worst performance for the last game of the tournament, and Pakistan its best. Over the last seven global ICC events, India has won two titles, finished runner-up twice, and reached the semifinals on two further occasions. It cannot be scoffed at.

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"We have done well to be in the final," Kohli said at the Oval afterwards. "We can be very proud of that as a unit, and we leave here with our heads held high because we understand the kind of expectations and pressures we face as a team.”

Like the Champions Trophy of 2013, India's openers were in fine form, knitting together two century partnerships (and one worth 87). Rohit Sharma had not played international cricket since October due to injury but he made 91 against Pakistan, 78 against Sri Lanka and an unbeaten 123 in the semifinals, banishing all concerns surrounding his form. Shikhar Dhawan, who a couple of months ago was not even certain to figure in the team, finished the tournament's highest run-scorer. Kohli notched up three half centuries, and was imperious against Pakistan in the group stages and later Bangladesh.

Hardik Pandya’s abilities as a batsman, seen in his two stunning assaults on Pakistan, and a fielder simply cannot be disputed.   -  AP

  Hardik Pandya may not be a bowler who can be trusted with 10 overs every time but there is no doubting his all-round value to the side. His abilities as a batsman, seen in his two stunning assaults on Pakistan, and a fielder simply cannot be disputed.

On the eve of the final, Kohli had called Pandya a potential match-winner, noting that he was the sort who could dig teams out of a hole (although the one India found itself in on Sunday was too deep). "If you're chasing a total and you need eight an over and you've lost wickets, he's a guy who can still win you the game," he had said.

"That's the kind of belief he has in his ability and we have that belief in him. He can give you a match-winning performance in any game that he plays, and he's a gun fielder as well. It's very hard to find a package like that." He ought to be at the heart of any plans for the future.

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Bhuvneshwar Kumar was India's best bowler, taking seven wickets at an economy rate of 4.63. Jasprit Bumrah was impressive too, although things may not have gone according to plan in the final. He is 23 and has played only 16 ODIs. He will only improve.

India will be concerned by R. Ashwin, who took one for 167 over three matches. He made a definite impact against South Africa, his first game of the tournament, but was unimpressive in the next two. In the final, he went for 70 from his 10 overs, only the third time in his ODI career of 108 matches that he had conceded 70 or more. His recent white-ball record – on some flat pitches – has been far from flattering.

"Every spinner has challenges on flat decks," Kohli said of Ashwin. "You can't really sit and pinpoint these things in white ball cricket, especially on wickets like these, where people are slogging across the line and getting away with it. It's not humanly possible to not concede boundaries and sixes."

Yuvraj Singh changed the colour of the India-Pakistan contest at Edgbaston with his ball-striking, but every failure of his will now be questioned as India looks to build a team for the 2019 World Cup. His fielding does not help either. It would be unfair to judge him, though, on the basis of only two bad innings. M.S. Dhoni's place is not under threat but Rishabh Pant, who is in India's squad for the West Indies tour, is an option that cannot be overlooked.

Kohli has a powerful, balanced side with no major rebuilding required over the next two years. It would be silly to make too much of one defeat.