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World Cup Final Preview: All Roads Lead To Mumbai

World Cup Final Preview: All Roads Lead To Mumbai
World Cup Final Preview: All Roads Lead To Mumbai
©REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY SPORT CRICKET) Picture Supplied by Action Images

At the beginning of the World Cup, if someone bet decent money on an India versus Sri Lanka final at Mumbai on April 2, he wouldn’t have been thought a fool. Australia were never expected to replicate their glorious past and England were too tired, doing very well to stay alive as long as they eventually did.

South Africa were always expected to choke, least of all in the inexplicable manner they did. New Zealand and Pakistan did surprise. For a moment the heart goes out to them for putting in such brave and glowing performances.

All said and done though, for most people these were the two sides that would eventually make it, the final toss-up depending upon whether you are an Indian or a Sri Lankan fan and now make India 4/7 to win the final and Sri Lanka 6/4.

If you are a Sri Lankan fan, things aren’t really rosy at the moment. Angelo Mathews being ruled out of the final on Saturday is no April Fool’s joke. Plus, Muttiah Muralitharan is only half fit, given that he has not fully recovered from his hamstring problem. Suraj Randiv has been flown in as replacement, but one would say odds are against him playing the final, given that the opposition isn’t docile against spin.

And if you lose an eye, you would want to replace it with an eye and not a nose or an ear. In cricketing terms, you would want to play an all-rounder for an all-rounder. That is where Thisara Perera comes into the picture, and his record against India isn’t all that bad.

That isn’t the complete downside yet. The worst team to play in the tournament final, for any side and not just particularly Lanka, could have been India. Why so? Because it is the finale of a stellar tournament and there has been a beeline for tickets or passes. The 34,000 seats are all expected to fill up well in time for the match to start and when the Indians are involved, they will all be baying for the opposition’s blood. Kumar Sangakkara insisted in the pre-match conference that his team isn’t the favourite yet they aren’t underdogs. Come to think of it, it is only a fine line between the two and it can be decided very soon. Even at the time of the toss.

Because playing at Mumbai against India doesn’t only bring the cricketers and their supporters into the picture alone. It brings the conditions – climatic and that of the pitch – to the fore as well. Now the good thing is that Lanka are well versed with humidity and heat, and will find the turn and the bounce in the Wankhede track to their liking as well.

Yet, the dew factor could spoil the party for the side batting second. If it is a low/medium range score, take into consideration that the new ball will definitely swing. And if it is a high score, it will only aid batting later on, lest the surface wears down completely.

It is a heady mix and tracks in this part of the world have always been like that. The two teams stand on equal footing in terms of their prowess against both pace and spin. Perhaps where the Lankans steal a march on their co-hosts is in the field, where they are much sharper and agile as a unit. Their bowling attack is much varied too, but Mathews’ loss will be grave. It will reflect not only when India are batting, for Sri Lanka do not have a deep batting line-up.

Yes, Tillakratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga are in the form of their lives. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are ever reliable to shine on the big stage. Even so, it only takes four balls to dismiss all of them. If India get through them early, the match is nearly over.

At this particular note, MS Dhoni would think, easier said than done. Because he doesn’t know what bowling combination he might play, or at least he didn’t give any hints in his press conference. Not even subtle ones, except perhaps that Sreesanth is again back in the picture. The reasoning behind this is simple. Ashish Nehra is injured and though playing him at Mohali was a gamble that worked, it underlined the manoeuvrability at his disposal. Zaheer Khan had five overs remaining when the last ten overs of the Pakistan chase began and a repeat of that alone could be a rousing factor if Lanka bat second. Simply speaking, India are too reliant on him for their wickets.

Zaheer (19) and Yuvraj Singh (13) have combined for 32 wickets in this tournament. Harbhajan Singh with eight wickets from as many matches is a pale shadow of the strike bowler he could be. Playing three seamers adds to the work load on his shoulders which in turn adds to Yuvraj’s pressure, because Harbhajan isn’t in any sort of form. Of course it could all change on the morrow for cricket is surely that funny.

Yet the ideal choice would have been to play Ravichandran Ashwin in place of the Turbanator for he at least has looked like taking wickets the few times he has come on to bowl. Only problem with this move being that it’s plain musing and not really the thought process of the Indian think-tank.

Once again then, India will rely heavily on their batsmen to do much of the hard work and then hope that everything falls into place. There is nothing wrong with this strategy because they are one victory away from lifting the trophy. Add to it that Sachin Tendulkar is on the verge of yet another landmark and doing it at his home ground only adds to temptation. Virender Sehwag doesn’t even need special occasions to light up, while Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni are all due for a big score.

Even Yuvraj, having been bowled for a golden duck at Mohali, has gotten the ceremonial law-of-averages curse out of the way and would be looking to score again. And Suresh Raina has been mentally sound at the crease, guiding his team at crucial junctures in the last two games, in a manner that Yusuf Pathan might never be able to bat in. If you are an Indian fan, all of this reads very well.

However, when the two captains go out for the toss, the equation would be balanced on paper. For a moment don’t think about the spectators filling up the seats. Think about how the Indian batting might counters the better fielding and bowling of the Sri Lankans. Think about how the Indian bowling’s shortcomings are on par with the frailties in the Lankan batting line-up. If Sangakkara and his men can counter the crowd and pressure factor, think about how they will indeed run Dhoni’s boys excruciatingly close in their bid for glory.

Chetan Narula

© Cricket World 2011