England will be looking to end a 38-year wait for a world 50-over trophy on Sunday against India. They have reached a final four times (1979, 1987, 1992 – in the World Cup – and the 2004 Champions Trophy) but, as yet, have failed to emerge as winners. If they do win at Edgbaston, many will say it is the final piece of the jigsaw that has seen England turn from perennial losers in the 1990s to the formidable force in world cricket, they are today. England are ranked number two in the world in Test matches, while in T20 cricket they are fifth in the ranking, but won the World Cup in the shortest form of the game in 2010.
Before the Champions Trophy began, England were the one of the favourites to lift the trophy due to their knowledge of conditions and seemingly set line-up. However, Tim Bresnan’s race to Yorkshire to be with his wife as she gave birth, Graeme Swann’s niggling injuries and Steven Finn’s lack of consistency has led to England using the full depth of their squad during their four matches. James Tredwell’s man-of-the-match performance for his three for 19 in the semi-final could now lead to him being selected ahead of Swann for the final – previously unthinkable but now a plausible option. Consider the bare facts: Since January 2012, in 13 matches the Kent spinner has taken 25 wickets to Swann’s 14 (in 15 matches). Tredwell’s wickets have cost just 19.40 apiece, while his senior counterpart’s average is 42.78. The stats don’t lie, but do not rule out England picking both off spinners on the driest square being used out of the competition’s three venues. The decision of whether Bresnan will retain his place after the birth of his son, Max Geoffrey, on Wednesday, is less certain. The ever-reliable Yorkie has succeeded in his role as a first change seamer brilliantly, so far but Finn on his day is capable of dismissing even the best batsmen. His wicket of South Africa’s danger man Hashim Amla in Wednesday’s semi-final is a case in point.
India have been the tournament’s form team, winning all four matches. The emphasis on youth – moving on the old guard of Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag – has been inspired. The fielding has improved markedly since England’s tour of the country in January. They have also been noticeably more positive than the seven other sides in the tournament with the bat. Shikhar Dhawan, the opening batsman and the top scorer in the competition, will look to get India off to a flier. Yet, if England and namely Jimmy Anderson can get the ball to conventional swing with the two new balls then it will put the number one ODI team in the world under real pressure – just ask South Africa, who were reduced 76 for seven after 20.2 overs. The question lies with England’s batting.
A hotly-debated subject throughout England’s seven ODI matches this summer has been the balance of the batting order. It is feared that the conservative top three – Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott – put too much pressure on Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler to propel England at the back-end of the innings. The dynamic pair has struggled, too. Morgan is averaging 17 in four matches, while Buttler is averaging just five. Of course, these figures are distorted by the very reason that they do come in to bat in the final throes of the innings and therefore are more exposed. If England are to triumph over India one of the top three need to score big, with either Morgan or Buttler producing a cameo blitz at the finish. Ravi Bopara, hopefully, will continue his good form, too. The Essex batsman has been the surprise package yo-yoing up and down the order but has produced two unbeaten scores of 33 and 46 against Sri Lanka and Australia respectively to prove his worth to the side.
Sunday’s final will be the Champions Trophy’s last. The competition – often shoe horned into an already jam-packed ICC calendar – was introduced in 2002. Until now each of the four previous tournaments have suffered from a hitch or two – with either security concerns or bad weather due to poor scheduling – but few disagree that the last two weeks have been a resounding success. Players and fans alike have been particularly vocal in their support of the competition. Alas, though, the competition will be scrapped leaving us with just the dysfunctional World Cup, often spanning six or so weeks with numerous preliminary matches to wade through before any of the top teams can play each other. Let’s hope the ICC take note and, somehow, abbreviate future editions of the World Cup. But with 14 teams set to battle out the 2015 World Cup it seems like the cricket bosses are intent involving as many countries as possible.
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas