A lot can change in a fortnight’s time. When India arrived in this country, it did so not so much carrying high hopes as uneasy, middling ones, seen as a team not built to sail through the competition but step gingerly to the door.
India enters the Champions Trophy final with England like it was the obvious thing to do, as a side convinced of its own authority. If there is victory at the end of it, it will be a thumping endorsement of India’s status as the world’s top one-day unit, and a thrilling portent for the future.
But whatever the outcome on Sunday, there is history to be made at Edgbaston. On one side is England, a nation that has never won a major one-day trophy in 38 years of trying, despite three final appearances in World Cups. On the other, India, aiming to become only the second team to hold the World Cup and the Champions Trophy at the same time.
There is no denying that for finalists, the competition has thrown up its two finest sides. The last time M.S. Dhoni toured these lands, his men lost the one-day series 3-0, at the back end of a miserable, luckless four Test match losses.
In two years’ time, the house has not so much been given a fresh coat of paint but reconstructed with vigour. In these last two weeks, India has crushed those before it but in England it faces a strong challenger.
Thus far, India’s openers have preferred an approach that is relentless in its aggression. Shikhar Dhawan has battered his way to two hundreds and is the tournament’s highest run-scorer. But James Anderson, arguably the world’s finest swing bowler and the rest of the England attack — comfortably quicker than India’s own — will offer an awfully hard test.
Rohit Sharma has begun well in all games but has demonstrated an inability to make major scores. It is vital to India that this changes. Virat Kohli struck a fiery fifty against Sri Lanka, which augurs well for India. That the rest of the batting has had little to do could be seen as a concern in some parts, but Dhoni has not seemed unduly worried by it.
India has also Stuart Broad, who will employ the short ball, and either of Steven Finn or Tim Bresnan to contend with. Finn played the semifinal against South Africa, but only because Bresnan had travelled home for the birth of his child. The latter is again available for selection.
Graeme Swann’s injury troubles have meant that James Tredwell has featured in three games as the spinner. Tredwell is not a bad bowler but India played him with greater caution than was necessary in the home series; his 11 wickets from the five matches look flattering.
This is a game that hinges on how India’s batsmen and England’s bowlers fare against each other but that is not all that there is to it.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has delivered early wickets each time he has stepped out. Against England’s firm top three of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and the remarkable automaton-like Jonathan Trott, he will have his task cut out.
Joe Root has been invigorating to watch and it remains to be seen if Ravindra Jadeja can hassle him like he has other batsmen.
India has won eight of the last 10 matches the teams have played, and will approach the fixture, due in no small part to its recent dominance, with boundless confidence. England will be desperate for success.
Rain is a possibility again, but with a full house expected, it is shaping up to be a tantalising goodbye to the Champions Trophy.
The teams (from): England: Alastair Cook (Capt.), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, Steven Finn, Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Graeme Swann, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Chris Woakes.
India: M.S. Dhoni (Capt.), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav.
Match officials: Kumar Dharmasena and Rod Tucker (on-field umpires), Bruce Oxenford (third umpire), Aleem Dar (fourth umpire), Ranjan Madugalle (match referee).
Keywords: ICC Champions Trophy, India-England finals, Champions Trophy 2013, India’s tour of England