The stakes have never been bigger. A billion or more people are expected to tune in. Thirty-three thousand more cheering your every move loudly, having spent tens of thousands rupees to be there. There’s noise, there’s scrutiny, there are thousands of prayers going up every second. Wagers will be made, work hours will be lost, appointments will be postponed. There’s also pressure. Lots of pressure. And it makes you do funny things. Lance Klusener would know.
The most successful bowler ever is pitted against the most successful batsman ever. There’s a $3 million purse on the line. Let’s not even start about the life-making windfall awaiting the victor. Above all, here’s the chance to be remembered as the greatest among the greats. In the most even playing field in recent memory, two teams have filtered through layer upon layer of challenges – injuries, controversies, ups and downs, wins and losses, and – as India discovered in Mohali – lunches which were not served on time.
Beneath all these layers, is a simple game of bat and ball condensed to 100 overs, as MS Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara would like to insist. But it never is that simple with a World Cup final.
Frenemies in Title Clash
On the cricket field, India and Sri Lanka are frenemies. One could push the envelope and say this is one of the more relaxed cricketing relations – there are no flare-ups, controversies, simmering undercurrents or cultural fault-lines.
The two teams and their boards get along so well, they’ve played each other 33 times since the 2007 World Cup. India have prevailed 18 times, Sri Lanka 13. They know all about each other – strengths, weaknesses, playbooks. They seem incapable of surprising each other. It all condenses to who handles pressure better on Saturday.
How They Match Up
Two explosive opening partnerships – Virender Sehwag (380 runs) and Sachin Tendulkar (464) for India, and Tillakaratne Dilshan (467) and Upul Tharanga (393) for Sri Lanka – cancel each other out. So do the new-ball combination of Zaheer Khan (19 wickets) and Lasith Malinga (11).
Sangakkara (417) is in good touch. But Mahela Jayawardene’s (201) form has dipped after a hundred against Cananda. The rest – Thilan Samaraweera (89) and the two Chamaras, Silva (77) and Kapugedera (2) – haven’t been tested in this tournament. Not that they aren’t capable of turning it on in these conditions.
For India, the middle order led by Yuvraj Singh (341 runs), Gautam Gambhir (296) and Virat Kohli (247) have shown dependability in multiple occasions in the World Cup. Suresh Raina (74) has made two precious thirties in high-pressure situations. Dhoni’s (150) form is suspect. But overall, India’s middle order is in sturdier health than Sri Lanka’s.
But the spin department is where it all evens out.
Harbhajan Singh (8 wickets) has had a poor tournament and is due for a good game. Worryingly, he’s prone to slip into a defensive mindset quickly. Yuvraj (13 wickets) is India’s best bet now, unless R Ashwin plays.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have such heavy weights as Muralitharan (15) and Ajantha Mendis (7), and back-up options in Dilshan (7), Suraj Randiv and Rangana Herath (3).
Net net, this is a battle between Indian batsmanship and Sri Lankan spin wizardry.
Injury Worries for Finalists
Saturday’s final at the Wankhede Stadium is expected to be the most evenly contested one since 1996. It is also Muralitharan’s swansong, and it couldn’t be on a grander stage. India's coach Gary Kirsten will also bow out, and this is also Sachin Tendulkar's last World Cup game. He's due for his hundredth hundred and there could be no better time to bring it up on his home ground to help India win the final.
Despite his fitness issues, as Dhoni said, he will play this game unless he’s lost a leg.
Sri Lanka’s concerns also extend to Angelo Matthews, who had to be replaced with Suraj Randiv due to a side strain. Chaminda Vaas, the veteran seamer, is on standby.
Ashish Nehra is out, but it’s not clear who will replace him at the moment. It could be R Ashwin, or S Sreesanth or Yusuf Pathan.
Sangakkara described the pitch as “great, fantastic” without elaborating upon it. Dhoni reckoned it will get slower through the game.
The typical red soil wicket has extra bounce. Here, the grass has been shaved off. Dead grass will be rolled in to keep the pitch from crumbling. Turn will supplement bounce.
Under lights with the sea breeze, the ball will swing around. Dew is not known to be a factor here. It is not a high-scoring venue. India’s highest score in the last 10 years here is 250 against England in a losing cause.
Long story short, win the toss, bat, post 280, take home the World Cup.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel. Coach: Gary Kirsten (SA)
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Mahela Jayawardene, Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Suraj Randiv, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath. Coach: Trevor Bayliss (Australia)
Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan) TV umpire: Ian Gould (England)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)
Toss: 2 pm IST
Match starts: 2.30 pm IST