India thrive on boring but effective template
The pressure is on India.
Sarfraz Ahmed said that first. Mashrafe Mortaza said that next. Yet Virat Kohli's India have waltzed into the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy without breaking much sweat or missing too many steps. India have made winning look ridiculously easy.
That success has come through a set template: throttle the opposition in the first 10 overs, take wickets in the middle overs and finish well each time they have bowled first. Indian bowlers have taken the most wickets in the middle segment of the innings - 19. And when it comes to chasing down targets, India are well-versed in this art, evident in the semi-final against Bangladesh.
On Thursday, the Indian batsmen cut loose from the start. Their run rate was much quicker in the first Powerplay - 63 for 0 was their best start after 10 overs in four matches of the tournament after scores of 37, 48, 46 at the same stage (against South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan respectively). By the halfway stage India were 164 for the loss of Shikhar Dhawan. Having wrapped up the Bangladesh innings almost 20 minutes ahead of the regulation time, India turned the screws fast on their opponents even with the bat.
Critics have pointed out that in tightly-run tournaments like these, the opposition usually is not consistently of high standard and that the pitches are skewed in favour of the batsmen, which feeds India's strength. But those conditions should apply to the other seven teams too. England were the firm favourites. South Africa and New Zealand disappointed themselves. Australia were unlucky to be beaten twice by the weather. You cannot fault India for doing what they are good at.
On the eve of the tournament, Virat Kohli had mentioned there were three factors that helped India win the title in 2013: the success of the Shikhar Dhawan-Rohit Sharma opening combination, the domination of their spin pair - R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja - and their fielding.
Two of those factors have contributed to their success four years later. Dhawan and Rohit are the most successful opening pairing not just this edition but in Champions Trophy history. Both men have one century each so far in this edition and their four 100-plus partnerships are the most by any pair in the tournament's history.
After the Pakistan victory, Kohli had admitted fielding was a grey area and he would give his unit six out of 10. Against South Africa,the ruthless fielding unit effected three run outs, of which two- AB de Villiers and David Miller - were match-turning.
As far as Ashwin and Jadeja go, they have been forced to be defensive on pitches where the ball has not gripped the surface and spun much. Despite that, India's bowling has managed to squeeze the opposition throughout the innings barring the solitary failure against Sri Lanka, who transformed a challenging target into a cakewalk.
Forced to re-think after the loss, India gave Jasprit Bumrah the opportunity to share the new ball with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, possibly the best death-bowling pair in cricket currently. In fact, in this edition, among teams bowling first, they have the best economy rate in the final 10 overs.
Australia captain, Steven Smith, has called Bhuvneshwar the best death bowler, but the Indian seamer is equally smart as a strike bowler too. The conditions at the start of the Bangladesh innings were exactly what Bhuvneshwar would have wanted: overcast with a little breeze. He started by pitching some deliveries wide, tempting the batsmen to reach out. Tamim Iqbal did not. Soumya Sarkar did and paid the price by playing on.
Sabbir Rahman was eager to bolt out of his crease almost every ball, thus revealing his hand. Bhuvneshwar hit the hard lengths and pitched short to frustrate him. The batsman was kept on the edge of the crease as Bhuvneshwar would angle in a fuller length delivery next ball. Bhuvneshwar eventually trapped Sabbir as he stretched out to play a wider delivery on off stump to Jadeja at point.
"Outstanding," is how Kohli summed up the role the Bhuvneshwar-Bumrah new-ball combine. "Especially in the last two games. they have been terrific initially and in the later stages as well. Their wicket-taking ability is always something that the opposition knows, so they are always careful about going hard against these two guys."
According to Kohli, the fast bowlers had worked hard to improve their lines and length, an exercise that was monitored under the sharp watch of India coach Anil Kumble. Kohli agreed it has paid dividends. "After the Sri Lanka, the lengths and line has been impeccable, so consistent, bowling close to the batsman, always there with an opportunity to get a wicket. Even in conditions which are not offering too much bowling such lines that can produce wicket-taking opportunities. Big credit to both of them for getting us where we stand right now."
With bat, ball, and in the field, India have strived hard to be on top. They have made mistakes, but they have also swiftly corrected them - like the bowlers improvising their line and lengths or the top order scoring at a brisk rate. Today when they found themselves under pressure - as Tamim and Mushfiqur played aggressively between the 12th and 25 overs, adding 93 - Kohli brought in part-timer Kedar Jadhav to distract the batsman. Jadhav was eventually the catalyst for victory.
As Kohli said, the hype about playing Pakistan for the second time in two weeks could distract everyone else, except India, who will continue to play "boring cricket." Boring = consistent, proactive, ruthless.
On Sunday India will find themselves at a place they have desired to be in. The pressure, obviously, will be back on them. Pakistan will, no doubt, say that.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo