India v Pakistan: princes v paupers

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London
A couple of South Africans of cricketing persuasion might walk into one of the slew of pubs near The Oval on Sunday.
Over a pint of London Pride, or one of those new hipster jobs they could reminisce about playing against each other — like the time one caught and bowled the other. And in the same team — when one opened the batting and the other came in as low as No. 11.
They will need a beer because they would have had quite a day at the Champions Trophy final between India and Pakistan.
Mickey Arthur, formerly a splendid splinter of an opening batsman for Griqualand West and Free State, and Marais Erasmus, who bowled brisk medium pace and hit hard down the order for Boland, are those two South Africans.
Together they played seven games for the Impalas in the days before sport’s options for signing cigarette companies as sponsors went up in smoke.
These days Arthur and Erasmus are older, wiser, a couple of kilogrammes heavier and among the game’s elite coaches and umpires.
That explains their presence at The Oval on Sunday. Arthur will be herding cats — what else could coaching Pakistan possibly be? — and Erasmus will try to keep a calm mind amid their yowling for wickets.
Not that the Shere Khan who is Virat Kohli, India’s captain, won’t be up and yowling with the best of them.
India versus Pakistan is too easily written up as cricket’s nuclear confrontation, a war of worlds and contending cultures.
For one thing, no game of cricket — or of anything else — should be likened to war.
For another, these teams, implacable opponents as they are every time they meet, have far more in common than not.
For still another, who wouldn’t want to see them fight it out on so grand an occasion?
Not since the 2007 World T20 final at the Wanderers have they meet in the deciding match of a major tournament.
The explosion of cricket’s economy, with its confetti of dollars, dollars and more dollars showered on players who until then could only dream of earning footballers’ salaries, can be traced back to that September day.
India won that earth shuddering encounter by five runs, and have since appeared in five more white-ball finals — and prevailed in three of them. Pakistan have reached two finals in that time, winning one.
That helps explain why India were 7/4 favourites to win at the bookies at lunchtime on Saturday.
That Pakistan were given odds of 4/9 is best explained by the fact that they are, well, Pakistan.
They couldn’t bat, bowl or field their way out of a soggy samoosa when India beat them by 124 runs at Edgbaston in Birmingham two weeks ago.
“Don’t worry about the India match, this is gone,” Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said he counseled his players after that game. “If it we play good cricket, definitely we will win this tournament. Now we are in the finals.”
Indeed, there has been no beating Pakistan since — not by South Africa, Sri Lanka nor England, who were a strong tip for the final before they crashed into Sarfraz’ side in the semis.
Kohli, asked after India dealt with upstarts Bangladesh easily enough in their semi whether he had taken in the prospect of an all-Asian final, offered an ironic, “No.”
But he knew he would have a struggler on his hands.
“Regardless of who you play in the finals it’s always going to be challenging because once you start thinking that it’s a big game, then your mindset changes,” he said.
“What we are going to try to do is repeat the sort of cricket that we have played so far, knowing the strengths and weaknesses they have.”
It’s India versus Pakistan, us versus them, princes versus paupers.
A couple of South Africans will be there, too.

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