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Arthur confident group-stage aberration behind Pakistan

LONDON: Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur is confident his side’s group-stage ‘aberration’ against title-holders India will have no bearing when they face their arch-rivals again in Sunday’s Champions Trophy final at The Oval.

When the Asian giants met in their tournament opener at Edgbaston on June 4, India thrashed Pakistan by 124 runs.

Arthur, a former coach of both his native South Africa and Australia, labelled Pakistan’s performance that day as ‘shambolic’.

But Pakistan bounced back to beat top-seeded South Africa and then held their nerve in a tense virtual quarter-final with Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Monday.

Two days later, again in the Welsh capital, Pakistan produced a brilliant all-round display to hammer previously unbeaten tournament hosts England by eight wickets in a lopsided semi-final.

Now, with left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir returning to the side after a back spasm ruled him out of the England match, Arthur believes there will be no repeat of their woeful pool showing against India when the latest edition of world cricket’s most high-profile contest takes place in London.

“The India game was an aberration,” Arthur told reporters at The Oval on Saturday. “What we’ve produced after that doesn’t come as any surprise, because that’s how we trained, and that’s what we worked at.

“It was very disappointing to see that go wrong in the Indian game, but…We’ve closed the chapter on that. That was an aberration. We’re now moving forward.”

Amir’s return bolsters an already impressive Pakistan pace attack featuring Hasan Ali, the tournament’s leading wicket-taker.

And Arthur believes that if Pakistan can strike with the new ball, they will have the chance to test an India middle order who have hardly been required to bat during this Champions Trophy, with the likes of openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, as well as captain and star No 3 Virat Kohli piling on the runs.

“Our strength has been the fact that we’ve been able to take wickets, and we’ve been able to take wickets consistently through the middle periods,” explained Arthur.

“If we can get amongst them with the new ball, we can expose the middle order that hasn’t batted much in this competition — so that’s pretty much our aim and focus.”

Pakistan’s run to the final has once again led to many comments about their notorious ‘unpredictability’.

But Arthur, who took charge shortly before last year’s tour of England, always believed they could go all the way in this tournament.

“I don’t think we’ve exceeded expectations at all,” he said ahead of what will be Pakistan’s first match of the competition at The Oval, having played all their previous fixtures at either Birmingham’s Edgbaston or Cardiff.

“We had the mantra ‘we want to get to London’. Well, we got to London — we want to go one step further now,” Arthur added. “The way the players dragged themselves off the canvas after the beating at Edgbaston was amazing… They’ve been really special.”

Sunday’s match could, according to some estimates, attract a global television audience of a billion and Arthur was in no doubt of the significance of a win over India.

“I just know it’ll mean a massive amount to them,” he said. “There’s a hell of a good vibe in that dressing room. Let’s hope we can put our ‘A’ game again together — because if we can, and I said it before the England game, we can beat anybody.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir will play in the final, Arthur said.

Asked if Amir was fit and would play in the showpiece clash, Arthur replied: “He’s fit to play, and he will play.”

The 25-year-old left-armer missed Pakistan’s shock win over England with a back spasm.

But after bowling in the nets at the Oval on Friday, Amir said: “I am fast gaining fitness.

“I bowled in the nets and felt no discomfort and since we have one more day [to prepare] I hope the recovery will be complete,” explained Amir, who took none for 32 in Pakistan’s 124-run defeat by India in the teams’ tournament opener at Edgbaston.

“I look forward to playing as it’s a big occasion,” added Amir, now firmly back in the international fold after his career was halted by a ban and jail sentence for his part in a 2010 spot-fixing scam during a Test against England at Lord’s.

Amir, who took two wickets, including that of all-time batting great Sachin Tendulkar, when Pakistan beat India at Centurion in the 2009 Champions Trophy, starred with both bat and ball in Monday’s crucial group stage victory over Sri Lanka in Cardiff.

He took two for 53 in 10 overs as Sri Lanka were held to 236 and then made an unbeaten 28 as he and Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed (61 not out) steered their side to a tense three-wicket win with an unbroken stand of 75.

But he was hardly missed on Wednesday, with fellow left-arm paceman Rumman Raees Khan, making his One-day International debut, taking two for 44 as England were skittled out for just 211.

Amir, however, has once again become a mainstay of the Pakistan team since returning to the side early in 2016, appearing in 47 of the team’s 57 matches across all international formats following his comeback.

Those two wickets against Sri Lanka have been his only two of the tournament so far, however, albeit his economy rate is a respectable 4.79.

After Friday’s practice, Pakistan bowling coach and former all-rounder Azhar Mahmood said of Amir: “He bowled without any problem whatsoever. The back spasm took two days to get over, and he’s better now.”

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