Arch rivals sight redemption in dream T20 final

Published: Sunday, September 23, 2007, 12:07 [IST]
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The young guns of India and Pakistan will square off in a dream final of the Twenty20 world championships Monday at the culmination of a tournament which has changed the face of cricket.

After a clinical Pakistan performance saw off the challenge of New Zealand at Cape Town in the first of two semi-finals on Saturday, India recorded a stunning victory in Durban against the previously all-conquering Australians.

Less than six months after both sides returned in disgrace from the 50-over World Cup, they now have a perfect opportunity for redemption, albeit with vastly different line-ups since their early departure from the Caribbean.

Rookie Pakistan skipper Shoaib Malik and incoming India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni have the chance to lift a major trophy after a tournament that has packed in more thrills and close finishes in a fortnight than six weeks in the West Indies.

After another six-packed batting peformance propelled his side to victory against Australia, India's hero Yuvraj Singh declared that a match against arch-rivals Pakistan was the icing on the cake.

"India-Pakistan is always a huge competition. It's just like a dream for us," said Yuvraj after smashing 70 off just 30 balls.

With fellow master-blasters Dhoni and Pakistan's Shahid Afridi both due to take the field at the batsman-friendly Wanderers here, a sell-out crowd on what is a bank holiday in South Africa can expect another run-fest.

Dhoni's swashbuckling style is in stark contrast to that of his predecessor as captain, Rahul "The Wall" Dravid, who was rested for the tournament along with India's other long-time star batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly.

After so often being crushed by the weight of expectations from their vast fanbase, India's new generaton has been revelling in the role of underdogs.

"We never started out as favourites, nobody expected us to reach the semi-finals," said Dhoni after victory over the Australians.

"You can expect a healthy rivalry over there (against Pakistan in Johannesburg) and a tough game of cricket."

Victory for Pakistan would be even more unexpected and mark a dramatic reversal in fortunes after a year of hell for India's neighbours.

After a drugs scandal and defeat to Ireland in the World Cup, even worse was to follow with the death in Jamaica of their coach Bob Woolmer who was initially presumed to have been murdered.

Captain Inzamam ul-Haq then quit, star batsman Mohammad Yousuf was cast adrift for signing up to a rebel Twenty20 tournament and controversy even continued to dog the team in South Africa with controversial speedster Shoaib Akhtar sent home for assaulting a team-mate on the eve of the tournament.

The 25-year-old Malik however has been a breath of fresh air, inspiring Pakistan to become arguably the sharpest fielders in the competition.

While Inzamam was famously inept between the wickets, Malik volunteered to act as a runner when Imran Nazir pulled a hamstring against the Kiwis.

Malik has been trying to keep his team's feet on the ground but believes that victory is within their grasp.

"In Pakistan we have lots of talent which, Inshallah, we are going to utilise and, Inshallah, the Pakistan team will be number one very soon."

Victory over India would make Malik the skipper of the first Pakistan team to ever beat their arch rivals in a major international tournament. The only other time they have played each other in a final was back in Australia in 1985 when India won the world championship of cricket in Melbourne.

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