02 April 2011.
After long weeks of slow progress, India and Sri Lanka arrive weary and footsore in Mumbai with a single aim in mind – capturing the World Cup and so securing glory for their country and cricketing immortality for themselves.
These entertaining and skilful sides have much in common, a reliance on spin, a captain who also keeps wickets, a population devoted to the game and a great player approaching the end of his career.
If India is the likelier winner it is because its batting is stronger. No team, it is true, has won a World Cup on its own patch but, then, nor has the home side ever stood out. In any case Indian cricketers are used to pressure, live with it day and night.
So far India has not produced its top form. Perhaps it will appear in the final, when a team can stop looking back and start looking forward. The closest India came to a complete performance was against South Africa when Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir took the score to 267 for one in 39 overs.
Then madness took hold in the Power Play, the batsmen lost their heads, nine wickets fell for 29 runs and the match slipped away.
It won’t happen again. Of course all India hopes that Tendulkar will score his 100th international hundred on this great stage.
Virender Sehwag waits at the bowler’s end on Day 2 of the Second Test of the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2010 – 11.
Photo ©: Pulkit Sinha/Flickr.com
Stuff of dreams
To attain the landmark in his own backward is the stuff of dreams. Local critics complain that he falters at the critical moment, not least in the first over of the 2003 final as India chased a vast Australian total.
But by then the match had already been lost. In that same event, too, he revived his team with a telling hundred and then took it to the final with a stunning display against Pakistan.
Not that India depends on him. Sehwag played an outstanding innings in the 2003 final and has runs left in him. Dhoni’s form has been patchy but his temperament is as sturdy as his forearm. The younger batsmen, too, appear confident and competent. Previous Indian sides have suffered from poor fitness and fielding but this outfit looks sharp in both respects.
India’s attack, though, is less threatening than its opponent’s. Zaheer Khan is the only Indian pacer capable of changing the course of a one-day match. The rest of the bowling is serviceable. Harbhajan Singh has ditched his doosra but remains a fierce competitor.
If Sri Lanka is the likelier loser it’s because the middle order batting has been patchy and injuries have taken a toll at the worst possible moment.
Muttiah Muralitharan is starting to resemble a stock car after a particularly contentious race whilst Angelo Mathews is out with a strained leg muscle.
Luck has run out
Admirably led by the senior players and guided by Trevor Bayliss, Lanka might find this match beyond it. By the look of things its luck has run out a few days too early.
If everything falls into place, fitness and form, the visitor is capable of causing an upset, and it’d be no more than it deserves because it plays with an abundance of spirit.
But it’s hard to avoid feeling that it is going to be India’s day. By and large World Cup finals are won by great players and rising teams. Dhoni has the more powerful line-up at his disposal, and fewer headaches. As far as the independent observer is concerned, though, the outcome hardly matters.
This World Cup has surpassed expectations and whatever the result it will produce a worthy winner.