Putting behind them the turbulent phase of the past few weeks,India are standing on the cusp of winning their second straight world 50-overs title as they take on hosts England in the summit showdown of the ICC Champions Trophy on Sunday.
The reigning World Cup winners roared into the title clash of what will be the last edition of the tournament,winning all their four matches with ease under the astute leadership of MS Dhoni. The Three Lions on the other hand will be gunning for their first major 50-over international title in their own lair.
Joint winners with Sri Lanka in the 2002 Champions Trophy in Colombo,India are the defending World Cup champions and the No. 1 team on the latest ICC rankings. But reputation and numbers will have little significance in a match where skill and mental toughness face an acid test at Edgbagston.
England,who have lost in the finals of both the World Cup and the Champions Trophy over the past two decades,will aim to exploit home conditions against a new breed of carefree Indian cricketers who have taken the tournament by storm. While India have breezed through to the final,England have shown their die-hard character by lifting themselves several notches in key matches.
The hosts thrashed South Africa by seven wickets in the tournaments first semifinal at The Oval on Wednesday but more than the margin of victory,the teams ability to bowl out a decent batting line-up in less than 39 overs would have given the English bowlers a big shot in the arm.
Indias batting has been in ominous form. Except for the tournament opener against South Africa on June 6,India have never batted beyond No. 4. Indias opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have prospered in every game. On the flip side,Indias middle order remains untested. But that should not be a worry because there is plenty of experience with Suresh Raina at No. 5 and skipper Dhoni at No. 6.
As far as bowling is concerned,the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar,Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja have been admirable in unfamiliar but helpful conditions. Umesh Yadav and Ravichandran Aswhin have also been instrumental in swinging the momentum Indias way on a few occasions.
That time of the year
The month of June has always been special for Indian cricket in England. Never having lost to England in two Champions Trophy matches before,a victory at Edgbaston will be the perfect way to complement the 30th anniversary of Indias first World Cup win at Lords on June 25.
Englands top order has been prolific with the workmanlike Jonathan Trott providing a calming influence at No. 3. The South Africa-born batsman is the third highest scorer in this Champions Trophy and will aim to play a special knock at Edgbaston,home to his County side,Warwickshire.
Trott said England have proved a few people wrong by reaching their second Champions Trophy final after 2004. The most recent major final England played in was the 2010 World Twenty20 in Barbados where they beat Australia to claim their only major ICC trophy.
The Champions Trophy final is also special for skipper Alastair Cook. He is leading England for the first time in a global event and is just a win away from a landmark victory. It would be a massive achievement and its very hard to do. Its taken a long time to get to the finals. We got to the finals in 2004 and couldnt quite get over the line. I hope this time we can get one better, said Cook. I think everyone loves this tournament,the fact that every game has meant so much. Every game has been against high quality opposition,and youve had to be on your A-game to win it. To be through with the quality opposition weve played,I think thats a good achievement and hopefully it wont stop there.
Englands biggest strength is their pace attack. The troika of James Anderson,Stuart Broad and Steven Finn are more than a handful in seaming conditions and therefore,the nature of the Edgbaston pitch and the toss will be critical in the final. With rain forecasted over the weekend and conditions likely to stay overcast,the English quicks will fancy their chances.