Champions Trophy: England 'ready and confident' says Alastair Cook as history beckons
Can team win a one-day tournament at last? Unbeaten India stand in their way in the final at Edgbaston so only their best will do – though winning the toss would help
It is alien to Alastair Cook's nature to issue rallying cries. He is a benign chap with an inner core of steel who leads by tenacious example. His deeds are inspirational rather than his tactics.
But this is what he said yesterday before England try once again to land a one-day final, a feat that has eluded them in 16 tournaments spanning 38 years: "They're ready," he said of the team which will play India in the Champions Trophy at Edgbaston today.
"I've never seen them as relaxed as they have been actually leading up to a big game. But I'm looking around in the guys' eyes and they're ready, ready to play. In the last two games under pressure they have delivered two excellent performances. I can see no reason why we can't do it again."
India have been the team of the competition, winning four games much as they liked. They have not exactly toyed with their opponents but they have not been troubled by them either. Into the bargain, they have been a revelation, quite unlike anything that has come out of India before.
Undeterred by conditions in which they have not always prospered in the past, their seam bowling has been a match for anyone in the past fortnight and they have fielded like demons. Above all perhaps, their batting has been a thing apart and in Shikhar Dhawan they have unearthed a gem, the man of the tournament with almost no previous experience.
India have not yet run into a class act like England's bowling attack. Dhawan will have to contend with an incisive moving ball, and it is certain that Jimmy Anderson and company will frequently aim for an area between his chest and his head.
Sometimes England can seem carried away with the short stuff, but it has served its purpose for them in the past and today will be no different. Against certain types of players brought up on sub-continental pitches, they work on the theory that they don't like it up 'em because they have not been accustomed to it.
Dhawan played against England twice last winter, as it happens, once in a first-class match for Mumbai A and later in a one-day warm-up match for Delhi when he made 110. On both occasions he was dismissed by Joe Root, so if it fails with Anderson today, Cook may know where to turn.
The toss, with bad weather around, will be more important than it perhaps ought to be. Whoever wins it will bowl and expect to make immediate inroads. India's lowest first-wicket partnership of the competition is 58 in four attempts and England will want and need to lower that by around 50.
If they can get the middle order in during a crisis then India will be in unfamiliar territory in every sense. "Look," said Cook, "I think it's clearly an advantage. It's one of those things in cricket, isn't it, if you can gain an advantage at the toss it is important, but at the end of the day it means nothing." Nothing and everything, that is.
When these two teams last met in a major one-day event it was in the World Cup of 2011 which India went on to win in front of their own ecstatic fans. The match ended in a titanic tie, both teams making 338.
What a difference two years makes. India's side will contain only two of the players who appeared in that match, MS Dhoni, the estimable captain, and Virat Kohli. England may have as many as five if Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson all play.
Swann, however, is likely not to feature. He will not be risked if there is any doubt about his fitness because of the imminence of the Ashes but his replacement, James Tredwell, has shown himself to be an adept, tough cricketer. Sport has no room for sentiment but Tredwell simply does not deserve to be dropped.
England's other selection dilemma is whether to bring back Bresnan, who has returned from paternity duty, for Steve Finn, who was vaguely disappointing in the semi-final against South Africa. For the moment, Finn appears to have mislaid his oomph, probably somewhere in his confusion about how long his run should be. Bresnan should be the preferred option for this match if not the opening Test of the Ashes.
India are the bookmakers' favourites because their form has been so pristine, but England have a splendid recent record against them at home, winning the last three ODI series between the sides. It is an anomaly, mostly of their own making, that England have never prevailed in a major one-day tournament of between 50 and 60 overs.
Although they have had their moments, they have tended to avoid peaking when it mattered. Now they are using this tournament as a guiding light for the World Cup in 2015 when this team, or something close to it, should be near its best.
If they could win this, with two Ashes series to follow, it would be quite something for Cook and his men after the dismal fate that has befallen so many predecessors.
"It would be a great achievement if we can do that, if we can win, and one which we will cherish," said Cook. "There's certain moments in your career you remember more than others, and if we can win this then I think that would be right up there."
English cricket could rightly be chuffed with itself until at least a fortnight on Wednesday.
How they got to the final
England have lost one game while India have come through unbeaten:
June 8 Edgbaston, Group A England, 269 for 6, beat Australia, 221 for 9, by 48 runs
June 13 The Oval, Group A England, 293 for 7, lost to Sri Lanka, 297 for 3, by seven wickets
June 16 Cardiff, Group A England, 169 all out, beat New Zealand, 159 for 8, by 10 runs
June 19 The Oval, semi-final England, 179 for 3, beat South Africa, 175 all out, by seven wickets
June 6 Cardiff, Group B India, 331 for 7, beat South Africa, 305 all out by 26 runs
June 11 The Oval, Group B India, 236 for 2, beat West Indies, 233 for 9, by eight wickets
June 15 Edgbaston, Group B India, 102 for 2, beat Pakistan, 165 all out by eight wickets on Duckworth/Lewis
June 20 Cardiff, semi-final India, 182 for two, beat Sri Lanka, 181 for eight, by eight wickets
England's final indignities
1979 World Cup Lost to West Indies by 92 runs
Chasing 287 to win – Viv Richards made a scintillating hundred – England stalled. Geoff Boycott took 17 overs to reach double figures and they were left needing 142 from 22 overs. Joel Garner mopped up.
1987 World Cup Lost to Australia by seven runs
In strong contention until Mike Gatting played a reverse sweep to Allan Border's first ball and it looped off his glove to the wicketkeeper, changing the match.
1992 World Cup Lost to Pakistan by 22 runs
Hanging on to hopes of victory until Wasim Akram produced fast, booming inswingers in successive balls to remove Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis.
2004 Champions Trophy Lost to West Indies by two wickets
After Marcus Trescothick's hundred it seemed as good as won when West Indies were 147 for 8, still needing 72. But in the gloom at The Oval Courtney Browne, (35no), and Ian Bradshaw (34no) never put a foot wrong.
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