Freddie Wilde analyses some of the key strategic decisions and tactical battles ahead of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy Final between India and Pakistan at The Oval.
Who makes way for Amir?
Mohammad Amir is expected to be fit for selection after recovering from the back spasm that ruled him out of Pakistan’s semi-final with England in Cardiff. Despite possessing a poor record against India—two wickets in 26 overs in three matches—the experience offered by Amir’s 94 international caps is likely to be enough to see him come back into the team for such a high pressure match. It is expected that fellow left-armer Rumman Raees, who replaced Amir for the semi-final and impressed by taking 2 for 44 from 9 overs, will make way.
However, against an Indian batting order particularly adept against spin Pakistan may be tempted to rebalance their attack by leaving out one of their two spinners Shadab Khan or Imad Wasim. At just 18 years old Shadab is short of experience but his wrist spin offers something different to the finger spin of Pakistan’s third spinner Mohammad Hafeez. Imad Wasim has been economical in Pakistan’s last three matches, conceding runs at just 3.28 runs per over from 21 overs but conceded 66 from his 9.1 overs in Pakistan’s first match against India. Pakistan’s spinners have been integral to their victories in this tournament and it is unlikely they will change the makeup of their attack.
Can Pakistan make inroads into India’s top-order?
India’s batting strategy is to start steadily and accelerate gradually through the innings. The caution that defines this approach has meant India’s run rate in overs 1 to 10 of the Champions Trophy of 4.84 is the third lowest among all teams but they have only lost one wicket in those first ten overs. The stability offered by this start has allowed India to play positively between overs 11 to 30 without taking massive risks, resulting in an overs 11 to 30 run rate of 5.95—the highest among all teams—and the loss of just four wickets in that phase—the equal fewest among all teams. Having lost just five wickets before the 30th over—an average of 1.25 per match—India have been able to score at 7.62 runs per over in the last 20 overs—the highest among all teams. This is a strategy that has seen India score at a run rate 6.23 across the tournament—comfortably the highest among all teams.
It is clearly apparent from this that key to restricting India’s batting is taking early wickets, something that their opponents have failed to do so far, which is why Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have scored 80% of India’s runs in the tournament. If Pakistan can bring Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni to the crease early they have a chance of exploiting India’s middle and lower order which has been short of time in the middle.
In this Champions Trophy Dhawan has been dismissed twice by leg spin in 20 balls—once by Shadab, meaning their may be an early role for the leg spinner. Against pace Dhawan has been fed with plenty of short balls and has thrived against them, scoring 89 off 50 balls without being dismissed. Off cutters have caused Dhawan problems since the World Cup, with 37 such deliveries dismissing him three times. Hasan Ali, who has taken three wickets in this tournament with off cutters, could pose Dhawan a challenge and although he has only bowled one over in the first ten overs so far in the tournament it may be worth giving him a bowl early on.
After struggling against leg spin in the IPL—six dismissals at an average of 11.16 runs per dismissal—Rohit has only faced 27 balls from leg spinners in this tournament. Given Dhawan has been dismissed twice against leg spin there is a strong case for giving Shadab an early bowl. While it may seem like a risk to bowl an 18 year-old so early in a big match; Pakistan not taking wickets early on could be more damaging. Since the World Cup against pace bowling Rohit has been restricted and dismissed from the round the wicket—run rate 4.74, average 24.50. If the ball does swing—which it barely has all tournament–Rohit is particularly vulnerable to the away swinger against which he averages 3.50 since the World Cup.
Dismissal summary data shows that Kohli is caught behind 24% of the time which is slightly above the ODI average of 20% indicating he can be vulnerable to balls just on and outside off stump. His average against balls in that channel of 36.89 runs per dismissal corroborates that theory and interestingly his average from such a line is notably low against balls pitched short of a length—at just 28.00 runs per dismissal. Kohli has also struggled against balls that have seamed away from him, averaging 23.85 runs per dismissal against them across his career. Kohli has a very poor record against Junaid Khan in ODIs, having been dismissed three times by him in 22 balls, scoring only two runs.
Can India escape the middle over squeeze?
Much of the credit for Pakistan’s resurgence in this competition has rightfully been attributed to Hasan who is the tournament’s leading wicket-taker with ten wickets and who has conceded runs at just 2.60 runs per over between overs 31 and 40. Less attention has been paid to the role of Pakistan’s spinners who have bowled 66% of Pakistan’s overs between the 11th and 30th over—the second highest—and conceded runs at just 4.71 runs per over—the second lowest by spinners in this period, contributing to Pakistan’s overall economy rate in the phase of 4.80—the second lowest and 0.66 better than the third lowest. The restriction offered by Pakistan’s spinners in this phase has forced teams to take more risks in overs 31 to 40 when Pakistan have deployed their seamers once again, who have bowled 70% of their overs in the phase, and when Pakistan have conceded a miserly 3.60 runs per over and taken eight wickets, derailing teams just as they look to accelerate towards the end of the innings.
Key to India avoiding the fate of South Africa, Sri Lanka and England can therefore be seen to be playing more positively against the spin of Hafeez, Shadab and Imad in overs 11 to 30, allowing them to more carefully manage the pace bowlers in overs 31 to 40. Fortunately for India they have dominated spin in the 11 to 30 phase of the innings so far in the Champions Trophy, scoring at 6.00 runs per over—the highest among all teams—and losing just one wicket—the fewest among all teams. This phase, pitting the middle over masters against one another, is likely to be critical in determining the fate of the trophy.
Can Fakhar Zaman provide Pakistan with a fast start?
Arguably the only Pakistani batsman who could win Pakistan the match with his batting alone is Fakhar Zaman who only made his ODI debut earlier in the Champions Trophy and has since scored 138 runs at a rate of 7.07 runs per over. Since selecting Fakhar Pakistan’s run rate in overs 1 to 10 has risen to 5.20—the third highest in the tournament in that period, and suddenly Pakistan’s top order has a verve to it that was conspicuous by its absence beforehand.
What is particularly difficult for opposition about players such as Fakhar so early on in his mainstream career is a lack of information to base plans on: he has only played three ODIs, three T20s and eight matches in the Pakistan Super League for which detailed data analysis is possible. CricViz has access to ball-tracking data for those 14 matches which allows us at least a cursory look at his approach.
Analysing ball-tracking suggests Fakhar has a possible weakness against the short ball—from which he has scored 19 runs off 20 balls and been dismissed once in T20s and 40 runs off 33 balls and been dismissed once in ODIs. It also appears that Fakhar can be restricted from round the wicket, from which his run rate in ODIs is 2.68 runs per over lower than over the wicket.
How will the death overs batting cope?
Both India and Pakistan’s lower orders have faced very few balls in the tournament so far and how they fare if put under pressure could be decisive in this match. Amazingly, Pakistan have only faced 29 deliveries after the 40th over in the tournament so far while the run rate of their batsmen who have batted at five or below has been just 4.82—the third lowest among all teams. India’s batsmen who have batted at five or lower have been more effective, scoring at 9.23 runs per over—the highest among all teams—but they have faced just 76 balls—the fewest among all teams.
Freddie Wilde is an Analyst at CricViz. Follow him on Twitter @fwildecricket.
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