Were you, brother and sister international cricket fan, responsible for organising the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy tournament in England, where would you stage the final? I want you to answer honestly, not just to give me the answer you think I want to hear.
At Lord’s, right? For me, it really is a no-brainer; if England is hosting an international cricket tournament featuring the best eight teams in the world, why would you not have the final at HQ, the “Home of Cricket?”
Hear Peter Roebuck in a piece he wrote for Cricinfo in the lead-up to the 2009 Ashes series Lord’s Test:
“Great batsmen have often responded to the unique challenges of Lord’s with great innings. World Cup and domestic 60-over finals played at the ground have been decorated by wonderful performances from Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Aravinda de Silva and others. Lesser lights can need time to adjust to the ground’s apparent expectations. At first they can feel like county councillors called upon to speak in the House of Lords. Lord’s has a way of extracting the truth.”
But if you want the truth, know that in 2004, when Brian Lara’s West Indians defied fading light and England to win their first and only Champions Trophy title, the final game was played at the Oval. Tomorrow, when India play hosts England in this year’s final, the two will face off at Edgbaston.
Brothers and sisters, I am in no position to explain the reasons for that. But if you are looking for an explanation, you might want to try to place an early advance order for the book that I am contemplating commissioning Andrew Jennings to write. I have settled on the title Betting beyond the Boundary and I expect it to do for cricket, well, perhaps to cricket, what The Lords of the Rings and Foul did to track and field and football respectively.
But some of the pundits have been warning that, whether the teams play at Edgbaston or at Lord’s, India will not win CT13. MS Dhoni’s men, they say, have coasted effortlessly through the rounds and the semi-final and are thus due for a bad day. What these pundits don’t realize is that there are much more than cricketing considerations impinging on this final. In this uneven contest, it’s not just bragging rights at stake; the winners earn US$2 million in prize money, the largest amount since the tournament’s inception. India must win; it’s a safe bet that more than a handful of the people back home in the ICC, oops, in the sub-continent are banking on it.
That said, one needs to point out that India and England are currently numbers 1 and 2 in the ICC ODI rankings. More to the point, Dhoni’s side has been far and away the best unit on show here since the tournament bowled off on June 6. They have won all four of their games so far, the first by 26 runs and the next three by eight wickets. Their top three batsmen are all averaging over 65 in this year’s tournament thus far and the batsmen have contributed five half-centuries and two centuries for good measure; from their top four bowlers have come over 30 wickets. And if that is not enough, as a fielding team, they have moved from near the bottom of the international pile to the top of the heap.
So Dhoni’s men are going to be hard, very hard to beat.
England lost to Sri Lanka in their Group A match and only sneaked into the semi-final by virtue of a hard-fought, arguably umpire-assisted 10-run victory over New Zealand. They looked far more convincing in the semi-final when they cruised past South Africa by seven wickets, having had the Proteas “in absolute tatters” (to use the television commentator’s kind plural) at 80 for 8 at one stage. Four of their top five batsmen have an aggregate of 140 or more in their four innings; only James Anderson (10) and Stuart Broad (5) have more than four wickets, Tim Bresnan and the spinner James Tredwell (4 each) and six others combining to take the 14 additional scalps that England’s bowlers have claimed.
If the tale of the tape seems to suggest a possible mismatch, the great leveller may be the weather. For the second semi-final between Sri Lanka and India, Cardiff produced a typically muggy British day instead of the pouring rain the meteorologists had led one to expect. Revelling in those conditions, India’s three seamers, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma, got the ball to move around appreciably and the first three Sri Lankan wickets fell early to edges that flew to the slips.
But the gap that now exists on paper between the achievements of Dhoni’s seamers and those of Alistair Cook’s may well be significantly narrowed if Anderson, Broad, Bresnan, Stephen Finn and company find the bowling conditions to their liking. It would take all the abundant skill of Shikar Dawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, not to mention skipper Dhoni himself, to post a total that their often-one-seamer-short attack can manfully defend.
Or, should they bowl first, for them to countenance overhauling whatever target England sets for the loss of no more than two wickets and so recording a fourth consecutive eight-wicket win.
In my view, Dhoni who, in the favourable atmospheric conditions prevailing in Thursday’s semifinal, spontaneously stripped off pads and gloves to send down four decent overs for a mere 17 runs, is a far more convincing tactician than Cook. I’d be surprised if he did not have a few more bunnies in his hat should the situation call for a little magic.
Therefore, in Birmingham tomorrow, my money is on the Indians.
So, I am willing to bet, is the ICC’s.