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June 13, 2008
Everything's peachy for India going into Saturday's final against Pakistan. There were concerns over a team coming right out of the IPL, but India have made the transition from Twenty20 to 50-over matches with two clinical victories. The batsmen have scored at more than six an over and the bowlers have dismissed the opposition in both league matches.
"There are no issues," Gary Kirsten, India's coach, said. "The team's playing well at the moment. We've had to remain focused on our preparation and at the same time give the guys rest. We've tried to balance the two and everyone's feeling good about tomorrow."
Both of India's innings in the tournament have got off to terrific starts. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir added 155 in 21.3 overs against Pakistan and 85 in 10 against Bangladesh. Both have scored more than fifty on each occasion and their success has left the middle-order with not much to do.
"It [the opening partnership] is important but we're not expecting too much," Kirsten said. "It might happen such that we don't get that partnership. It will obviously be nice to have it because they [Sehwag and Gambhir] score at a good rate and it sets our innings up. We've also got to be willing to know that we might lose a wicket early on. But we've got quality [middle-order] batsmen who can apply themselves in that situation."
It is an area which Pakistan can look to capitalise on: take out Sehwag and Gambhir early and put the middle order under pressure. Another aspect of India's play which Pakistan can target is the fifth bowler. In their previous encounter, Praveen Kumar's four-wicket burst with the new ball crippled Pakistan's innings but, if they can keep wickets intact, their batsmen could play aggressively against Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj Singh and Sehwag.
An area where India scores heavily over Pakistan, however, is in the field. Yuvraj, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina cover plenty of ground between them in the inner circle and fielders such as Yusuf and Irfan Pathan have strong arms from the boundary. "It [fielding and fitness] is certainly an area that we're working very hard on," Kirsten said. "It's nice to have a lot of youth because there's energy and enthusiasm, which is great. They are very keen to prepare well physically. We're placing a lot of emphasis on that. We're still a long way from where we want to be but we're heading in the right direction."
The key for India is to ward off complacency. Both Kirsten and Mahendra Singh Dhoni said if they played to potential, India would win more often than not. However, Kirsten expected a different and far more competitive Pakistan outfit for the final. "They are going to be motivated and determined and we know they can play good cricket. We like to try and stay away from worrying about the opposition too much apart from expecting them to play at their best. We feel if we can execute our plans the way we want to, we are going to be difficult to beat."
The last final between India and Pakistan was at the World Twenty20 in Johannesburg and memories of Misbah-ul-Haq scooping the last ball to Sreesanth at short fine leg are still vivid. Dhoni said India had got the better of Pakistan over the last four years or so. His team would look to do the same come Saturday.
Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala