London, June 17: Cricket fans, we have a dream final! Pakistan vs India, and yes it just doesn't get any bigger than this. (India-Pakistan final on June 18, 3 PM IST)
I am not sure how many people tipped the two arch-rivals to clash in the final, especially after the one-sided defeat Pakistan had to endure in its opening match in Birmingham. But the unpredictability and never-say-die spirit of Pakistan cricket is here for all of us to celebrate again as we all await with bated breaths for what promises to be an epic clash at The Oval in London.
Before I dwell on Pakistan's strategy for the big match, I want to say that the final has given Sarfraz a God given opportunity of leaving a lasting legacy. The feisty wicket-keeper batsman is still learning the art of captaincy, yet has grown in stature as leader in every game this tournament. My advice to Sarfraz for the final is simple - take all decisions wholeheartedly and without any fear whatsoever.
In big games, you need captains to have a clear mind since they are the ones who have to steer the ship. Sarfraz needs to back his own abilities to the hilt since a confused or timid approach can hurt the team and dampen the chances of success.
As I have said earlier, Pakistan's seniors Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez need to come to the party for the big game, both these players have contributed in many wins and Sunday is the time for them to deliver once again on the biggest stage of all.
Hafeez's cameo against England will hold him in good stead for the final. Malik has had a quiet tournament by his standards but I expect him to come good on the big occasion. We all need to back the seniors which will help them focus and help the youngsters in the team who might have some nerves or stage fright on Sunday.
I am heartened by Pakistan's opening partnership of Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali. The two have done a fantastic job for the team at the start of the innings and one more partnership of substance can give the side the required momentum for a possible victory.
Azhar has been a revelation for me. Leading up to the tournament, his presence in the eleven was questioned by many, yet he has once again displayed that he is a strong character who makes a genuine effort to adapt to different situations in a match.
If Fakhar gets out early, Azhar should take the charge and focus on minimizing the dot balls, Pakistani batsmen need to remember that strike-rotation is as important as hitting boundaries in an ODI.
Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for Pakistan I believe is combatting the Indian batting line-up. Virat Kohli's team has already proved its credentials as the best batting unit in the tournament. Its top-order is in great nick and it has a powerful trio of MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya in the middle-order.
The Indian batsmen look unfazed even in a pressure situation, Kohli's scarcely believable record while chasing is known to all and I believe that Pakistan would have to target taking wickets with the new ball since strikes at the top of the innings are likely to be crucial for the game's outcome.
In the matches leading up to the final, middle overs have been the game changers for Pakistan. I feel that the same strategy can be deployed for the final, which means that Sarfraz would have to try and keep the runs dry till that stage of the game, especially if there are no strikes with the two new balls.
Pakistan has defied all expectations, so in a way, that should ease the burden on the players. The management needs to convey to the team that they should enjoy the occasion and free their minds from negative thoughts or emotions.
I would also want the cricketing world and the ICC to keep a close eye on the significance of an Indo-Pak cricket match of this magnitude and what it means to the fans of the game all around.
I really hope that we see resumption of bilateral cricket between the two countries and would request the Indian cricket board and the Indian government to soften their stance.
Having captained Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup semi-final at Mohali, I know the importance of the game and how it brings the two nations to a standstill while underlining the message of peace and tolerance for each other.
Cricket can be an actual source of bringing the two nations together and reducing the tensions. I, like the rest of the world, can't wait for the match to start. Let us hope that we see a game of epic proportions that is remembered for a long, long time.
Go well Pakistan!
(Shahid Afridi represented Pakistan in 27 Tests, 398 ODIs and 98 T20Is between 1998 and 2016. He scored 1716 runs and took 48 wickets in Tests, scored 8064 runs and bagged 395 wickets in ODIs and scored 1405 runs and claimed 97 wickets in T20Is. He played in five World Cup, six World Twenty and five ICC Champions Trophy tournaments.)
The column first appeared on www.icc-cricket.com