India innings: 41-50:
It was almost anti-climactic -- despite Gautam Gambhir's rush of blood charge that saw him bowled three short of what would have been the most memorable century of his career.
Heading into the straight needing to chase down a run a ball, with MS Dhoni stroking in form, Yuvraj replacing Gautam, and Raina still to come, it was India's to lose. And this India is not losing too many, not if it can help it.
Mathematical, it proved. So dominant was India that Murali backed off from bowling in the PPs. And India broke the game open against Malinga, the most feared of the opposition bowlers. Needing 16 off 18 heading into the 48th over, Dhoni smashed the Lankan quick twice to the square leg ropes to turn the chase into a fait accompli, India ending that over with just 5 needed off 12. Fittingly, Dhoni ended it with a humongous hit over the long on ropes, to seal a six wicket win.
Think of that one more time -- just two wickets went down after Sachin and Sehwag, and at the end, it had batting to spare.
As chases go, this one ranks with the best India has ever been involved in -- and when you factor in the occasion, the pressure, the early loss of two powerful batsmen -- you could say this is it, the game that tells this team that nothing, not a thing on the cricket field, is beyond them once they set their minds to do it.
Enjoy the win -- such moments come once in a lifetime.
India innings: 31-40:
This is it -- the batting I was waiting for. Nothing flash -- just calculated batting, never allowing any bowler, including the feared Murali and Malinga, to settle.
Dhoni and Gambhir kept knocking them around the park; pressure built as it was bound to; bowlers feeling it erred, as they were bound to, and the two batsmen cashed in on every available opportunity. The 50 runs between 150-200 took a mere 48 balls, which when you consider the context, was brilliant work.
The trick had to be to remember the carnage of the last five overs, and the fact that the overs between 41-50 produced 91 for the Lankans. That is a bridge too far -- the trick had to be to reduce the ask in the last ten overs. And that is what the Indians worked out to perfection. With calculated assaults and gritty running, they got the score to 221 at the end of 40. Which basically meant that India had made up for the late charge by the Lankans, and left them with less than a run a ball, including the power play.
Equally to the point, they neutralized the Lankan spinners and attacked Kulasekhara, forcing Kumar to try over after over of Malinga's. At the 40 over mark, Lanka's spearhead had gone through 7, leaving him with just three to bowl during the power plays. And the cat and mouse game is set up -- because India can now delay taking the power plays and keep knocking the runs down.
India innings: 21-30:
It takes big moments to change games, and Dilshan produced one such in the 22nd. Kumar had to bring him back, to try and save overs of his top two spinners (keeping in mind that his two back up seamers were not particularly effective).
Kohli drove at Dilshan, but failed to control the shot and off the leading edge, it was flying towards his batting partner. Gambhir got out of the way of the shot, and that gave the bowler just enough room to check, lunge to his right, and pull off a blinder. Kohli's 35 off 49 had helped stitch together an 83-run partnership in 15.3 overs that put the innings back on track, but that blinder terminated the partnership just when it was beginning to be dangerous.
Later in the same over, Kumar muffed a tough stumping off his opposite number, to go with the run out he had missed off Gambhir. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the toss, one thing is fairly clear: Kumar is feeling as much pressure as the Indians are on the chase.
Needing at least another wicket, Kumar brought Malinga back in the 27th, far earlier than he is normally accustomed to. The Lankan quick normally bowls two overs at the top of the innings, then comes back for two or so in the late middle, and then shuts down the chase. Here, his comeback over was his 50th, and it was still shy of the 30 over mark -- calculations the batting side would likely be making out there.
After 30, India had moved to 150/3 (Sri Lanka was 134/3). And the game was set up -- which way it will swing will be decided in the ten overs to follow.
India innings: 11-20:
With the Indian batsmen chipping the medium pacers around, Suraj Randiv was brought on in the 14th over, and a shimmy by Gautam Gambhir to chip over mid off saw Kulasekhara come in off the line and dive forward in a brave attempt to make a catch of it.
That little bit of drama aside, India in almost imperceptible fashion fought its way back into the game. Gambhir and Kohli stroked singles around the park, got the bowlers distracted and fidgety, pounced on lapses to stroke the fours, and kept the board ticking over -- which is how games are played and, often, won. What the doomsday prophets who called the game after the exit of Sehwag and Sachin omitted from their calculations is this: Lanka, after losing their big hitting openers inside the first 15, managed just 83/2 at the end of 20 overs. In other words, the opportunity for India is not in a final assault, but in overhauling the Lankan pace in the middle overs and setting themselves less of an ask towards the end.
Randiv was joined by Dilshan in the 17th, but again, on a track where the turn is on the slower side, two batsmen who know how to play spin faced little difficulty pressing back when length permitted, and when exasperated bowlers increased the length, promptly going forward to stroke the ball around. It was percentage batting of quality, and the crowd (those who remained after the exit of Sachin) gradually climbed back into the contest as the runs ticked on. That forced Kumar to remove Dilshan and bring on his withheld trump, Murali.
Very early in the over, Gambhir showed what the play would be when he pressed deep back in his crease and stroked Murali through point for a brace (that Kumar missed taking a simple throw to effect a run out was a coda to that stroke). The over also saw Gambhir move to a nicely stroked, if not entirely chance-free, 50 off 56.
After 20, India was 105/2 (a little matter of 22 runs ahead of where Lanka was at this point). Significantly, India was still going at 5+ -- in other words, the ask was not being allowed to slip too far.
India innings: Overs 1-10:
For the second time in two games, Virender Sehwag stayed back to a good length ball and tried to work it off his legs. For the second time, he missed and was hit on the pads. For the second time, the umpire gave it out and again, Viru reviewed without benefit of consultation with partner. Just to round the deja view off, for the second time he was wrong, the umpire was right, and India at 0-1 had gotten off to a bad start, courtesy Lasith Malinga.
It was in the fourth over that breathing -- if you are an India fan -- became relatively easier. Not because of the ease with which Sachin Tendulkar picked length and slapped Nuwan Kulasekhara square on the off despite a cordon of three to stop that shot, but because of that autograph shot to the ball before that: a glide forward, an easy swing of the bat, a check at point of impact, and a pause to watch the ball speeding past the bowler, to the straight fence. It is when he is batting with a free mind that Tendulkar pulls that shot out so early in an innings, and as omens go that went a long way to off set the loss of Sehwag early.
Malinga was, as he always is, class -- fast, accurate, and spot on in his lines and his lengths. Sri Lanka's problem in the early exchanges was the lack of a bowler at the other end capable of maintaining that pressure. Nuwan Kulasekhara, in for this game, struggled to match that intensity, and the Indians worked him around the park when Tendulkar wasn't showing off some of his watermarked shots.
After two overs Thisara Perera (sometimes known as the 'India expert' for his inexplicable knack of performing only against the one team) was brought in for Kulasekhara. What works for Perera is his control over line and length, which in this case was tight enough to force Gambhir into taking risks with a swat dangerously past point.
Kumar Sangakkara normally bowls Malinga in very short spells at the start, rarely more than two. It was surprising to see him pressed into service for a fourth over here -- but the first ball of the extended spell produced what the Lankan captain was clearly hoping for: for his main bowler to take out the main batsman in the opposition. The ball was wide of off going wider; Tendulkar, who till then seemed remarkably composed, chased that and got the thick outer edge through to a delighted Sangakkara, and with that both openers were back in the hut inside of 7 overs, courtesy the Lankan spearhead.
4-0-11-2 for Malinga and with India on 32/2 after 7, the Lankan slinger had decisively changed the course of the game. Also, he had given his bowling mates all the cover they needed to tighten the noose, since from that point on India was always going to be on the defensive, permitting the bowling side to pretty much stick to their plans.
Virat Kohli, runless for the first ten balls he played, clipped Kulasekhara off his pads to the midwicket fence to get off the mark, then stroked him through the off for two more, and at the ten over mark, India had moved to 41/2. Not an ideal start -- and that is an understatement. But it does represent opportunity for established players like Yuvraj, Dhoni and Gambhir, and rising stars like Raina and Kohli, to put on a show.
Sri Lanka: Overs 41-50:
Yuvraj (3). Munaf (6). Harbhajan (7). Munaf (6). Harbhajan (6). That is how the first five overs went during the key phase. And to add spice, Kulasekhara was lucky a nick audible in real time was not "conclusive evidence" on a review.
With 211/5 after 45, the batting power play was mandatory - and it was fairly surprising that the Lankans left it that late, allowing the Indians to keep Zaheer's three overs in reserve besides one of Harbhajan and two of Munaf -- in other words, five good overs plus one surplus.
A four in the 46th off Zaheer, two in the next off Munaf, were all good without however really breaking the game open. And then came the 48th -- Kulasekhara took a long stride out, and swatted Zaheer off length over the long on fence for a huge six. With a bit hit at the top of the over, all the pressure swings onto the bowler, and Jayawardene rubbed it in with two brilliant fours. The first saw him step away, let the ball bounce, and guide it over point, playing the upper cut to the fence. The next ball, fuller and on off, was driven with savage power to the long off boundary and even as the ball was racing to its destination, Mahela had his helmet off to mark his 100.
A century in a World Cup final is worth appreciating for its own sake, but this one, coming off 84 balls from a batsman who thus far has struggled to find his touch, coming too at a time when his mates, all in form, had struggled to make the pace was invaluable. It almost didn't matter that in trying to keep the strike, Jayawardene got Kulasekhara run out off the last ball of the Zaheer over that produced 17 runs.
Harbhajan and Zaheer bowled the innings out (incidentally, some 38 minutes behind schedule). 63 runs came off the power play -- including 18 off Zaheer Khan, who after a first five overs that produced 9 runs, gave away 51 runs in his last five, thanks to a spectacular assault by Perera, who bunched his muscles and swung away, aided by bowlers who bowled to his strength.
India now has a 274-run chase -- and more than most times, the critical bit, at least at the start, will be how long Viru Sehwag stays at the wicket. It is not an out of reach target -- but to get there, India will need to play out of its collective skin against a bowling and fielding side that, thanks to the heroics of Mahela and that late assault, will now be fancying its chances.
Sri Lanka: Overs 31-40:
The thing about MS is that once something works for him, he makes it part of his operating template. The idea of slipping in an odd over from part-timers (and increasingly you can't include Yuvraj in this category) is one such. In the 33rd over, thus, he slipped in Sachin for two over of assorted all-sorts that fetched Lanka 12 runs. MS will consider that a bargain, since it allowed him to make up the two overs Sreesanth has yet to bowl. Also in keeping with his new-found idea, he slipped in a Kohli over at a time when the Lankans wouldn't be looking to attack; that helped save another of his good overs for the death.
The highlight of this phase was Mahela's half century -- at a tick better than a run a ball (49 balls, six fours). The stylish Lankan right hander has struggled through this tournament, but the final has thus far seen the best of him: all classy eleganvce, relaxed, assured, batting in a fashion that makes you understand why he is in Lankan circles regarded as the natural heir to the batting mantle of Roy Dias and Aravinda d'Silva.
Zaheer's introduction in the 38th over, following the mandatory ball change in the 35th, was a departure from Dhoni's norm, and a sign that the Indians were beginning to feel the strain of this partnership. While the run rate was not electric, the two batsmen were knocking the runs around with facile ease, never seeming threatened, and with each passing over, they were setting themselves, and their fellows in the hut, for the big-bang finish.
If that move was intended to produce a wicket, it did -- at the other end, where Samaraweera went a long way forward to sweep Yuvraj's straighter one, missed, and got it on the hip adjacent middle stump. Simon Taufel, who thus far has been spot on with his decisions, called it not out, then over-ruled himself on review, and India pulled one back just when the momentum of the game seemed to be shifting thanks to the 57-run stand at a healthy 5.5 with neither batsmen working up a sweat.
And then, in the 40th over, Zaheer struck what could be the mortal blow to Lanka's hopes of a really big score. As he so often does when bowling round the wicket with the older ball, he kept the pace closer to his current highs, and then produced the perfectly disguised slower one. Kapugedara was a lifetime early into his shot; all he managed was to get the higher half of the bat onto the ball and hit it straight to Raina, well inside the ring at cover.
After 40, Lanka was on 183/5. The platform they want is in place, but their hopes of maybe adding 90-100 runs in the last ten overs has been stymied by the two wickets that fell late in this phase. Kulasekhara has been promoted to try and slog a few, but India will feel at as the game heads into the straight, it is better placed than the opposition.
Sri Lanka: Overs 21-30:
For some reason, this period saw India reverse its policy in the field, and pull its fielders back a bit. The immediate consequence was that Kumar and Mahela could work the ball around in a way the earlier tight cordon had not permitted, and that brought visible relief to the two Lankan senior bats.
Yuvraj was switched on in the 21st over, by which point Harbhajan had bowled 4 of his quota. The slow-and-slower phase was on, and the Lankans had to work to make pace on the ball. At the halfway point of the innings, 105/2 (Mahela 25/25, Kumar 39/58) constituted under-achievement on the part of the Lankans -- or more accurately, it constituted a tremendous performance by the Indians with the ball and in the field, with Sreesanth (39 in 6) the only aberration in an otherwise impeccable bowling card).
Just around the time the quiet accumulation of the Lankan batsmen began assuming problematic proportions, the wicket fell. Perhaps predictably, it was Yuvraj -- but for once, to a ball that deserved a boundary against his name. It was dragged down short, it was straight, it was going wide on the angle to the left hander, and Kumar Sangakkara's eyes lit up with the possibility. To his bad luck, he overhit, swinging far harder than he needed to to put the gift away, and ended up with the faintest of nicks to Dhoni (48/67).
The captain's 62 run partnership with his predecessor at 5.5 per over revived the Lankan innings just when it was falling apart -- but against that, it ended just when the team needed the two best bats to kick it up another notch, and India once again got the upper hand.
MS, still working on his Sreesanth problem, promptly brought the bowler back, to take advantage of a period when neither Mahela, nor new man Thilan Samaraweera, would feel comfortable attacking even the weakest link in the opposition lineup.
After 30 overs, Lanka had managed 132/3; having added 49 for the loss of Sangakkara during this ten over phase. On balance, India would be the happier of the two sides at this point: they have stopped the opposition from breaking free, despite having one fairly weak link in the attack; they've taken out three of the four dangermen in the Lankan batting line up; and with just 20 overs left, are in a position to restrict Lanka to less than the 270+ the batting side would have been looking at on this track.
Sri Lanka: Overs 11-20:
MS Dhoni's gameplan was clear from the get-go: pack the off side, keep the ball on that side, and shut the Sri Lankan stroke-makers down. As tactics go, this one is hard to fault -- the wicket is good for batting on (this is not the Premadasa with the ball coming knee high), and the first objective had to be to keep the Lankans from breaking free in the early overs, so the middle ones could be controlled by the spinners.
Field setting, complemented by the right lines, had much to do with this. Dilshan loves hitting square on both sides, so the bowlers kept the ball on fuller length and within the stumps most of the time. Against that, Kumar loves to bat in the V, where he is at his stylish best -- and for him, the bowlers focused on being a bit wider while staying on the full side, forcing him to open his bat face in a way that is not his first choice of stroke.
Munaf and Sreesanth continued the good work of the first 10 overs, during the bowling power play. Against that, and with Dilshan unable to break free (credit largely to the bowling, which was along lines calculated to deny Dilshan's strengths), Kumar Sangakkara took the onus of batting Lanka out of jail on himself, and in the 13th over waltzed down to chip Sreesanth over the mid on fielder, then unfurled a glorious straight drive to make sure India wasn't getting things all its way.
That assault saw the beginnings of a sight familiar to Indian cricket fans: the gradual implosion of Sreesanth. Those two hits messed with the bowler's equanimity (despite 'big brother' Zak walking him back to his mark after each ball, getting in his ear with calming words); off the next ball he was warned for running on the pitch, and his response was a no ball. Off the resulting free hit, Dilshan thick-edged the ball down to third man for a four to complete a 15 run over. The previous highest was the 8th, also by Sreesanth, when Dilshan took him for two fours.
What that over did was force Dhoni to rethink his bowling strategy, and bring Harbhajan on in the 15th over -- at least three, four overs I'd suspect before he would have wanted to. Harbhajan began (as he so often does these days) with a round the wicket line that seemed designed more to contain than to attack. Predictably, the opening over was tight (2 runs) but not incisive.
Sri Lanka reached 58/1 at the end of 15, with the bowling power play done. At that point, the batsmen had played out 64 dot balls of the 90 legitimate deliveries bowled to them -- a far cry from their preferred method of working the ball around, pressuring the bowlers with relentless singles and pouncing on the inevitable errors. Another way of looking at this period is that Sreesanth gave 33 in his five, while the other three bowlers gave away 22 in their combined ten.
Clearly, the Lankans who had set their sights on a 270-plus score would have begun to feel pressure. And it showed in Dilshan's almighty heave of a sweep at Harbhajan, to the line on or just outside leg -- the kind of line you paddle, not really swing full on -- that saw the ball carrom from bat edge onto arm onto thigh and back onto leg stump. An unlucky dismissal, but the batsman contributed with an absolutely rank example of shot selection. 30 dot balls out of 39 faced points to the discomfort the normally free-wheeling opener plays, and the credit for neutralizing him belongs largely to India's super-efficient fielding inside the ring on the off, that time and again cut off his best shots.
Needing to slip through Sreesanth's overs at some point, MS brought him back in the 20th. Somehow, it only seems to happen to him -- that when he is having a bad day, everything that could possibly go wrong, and some that you thought couldn't, will. Here, Dhoni gave him a slip, then took it off after two balls, and the third one found Mahela's edge with late swing and flew through that precise point where the slip had been till then -- and ended at the third man fence.
After 20 overs, Sri Lanka is 83/2. In these ten overs, Lanka has made 52 runs for the loss of Dilshan -- which is good going, all things considered. The trick for the batting side is that the key phase is now on them: 20-40, when the older ball will see India taking the pace off and trying to make run scoring all that much more difficult.
Sri Lanka: Overs 1-10:
Most people wouldn't pick a World Cup final to try a gamble -- but MS Dhoni is not most people. His instinctive preference is a 3-seam, 1-spin attack and with Ashish Nehra out with a finger injury, Dhoni picked Sreesanth (whom he hasn't picked since that initial outing in the Cup-opener against Bangladesh) over Ashwin.
As gambles go, this one is potentially huge -- if the maverick bowler can keep his wits about him, he could be a game changer; lose the plot, and his ten overs could be what costs India the game.
What works in its favor is that India lost the toss on the second try -- and got to bowl first. If there is movement at the Wankhede, it is early on, when there is a bit of moisture left and before the sun has a chance to burn it off. And movement is what makes Sree dangerous, thanks to his ability to move it one way in the air and bring it back off the seam.
Zaheer Khan, whose last appearance at a World Cup final turned into a personal nightmare, turned it on with an exhibition of controlled swing that produced three back to back maidens at the start of his spell. At the other end, Sreesanth got the expected movement, but his radar needed fine tuning, with the ball tending to home in towards leg stump as opposed to the ideal middle/middle-off line.
The best part of the opening exchanges was India's fielding -- particularly Yuvraj at point backed by Raina at cover. The two fielders covered each other and between them, shut the area down -- crucial, as against Zaheer in particular, the left handed Tharanga was unable to get the ball square, and Zaheer wasn't giving him anything to hit straight.
With the pressure on, Dilshan pulled -- not convincingly, but hard enough to carry the midwicket fielder in the ring -- Sreesanth, off the first ball of the 6th over, to bring up Lanka's first boundary. One ball later the bowler, who had cranked his pace up to around the 145 mark, bowled the first loose delivery of the game -- short, outside off, just in the slot for Dilshan to hit the first authentic shot of the innings, through point.
At the other end Zaheer, who for three overs had been setting Taranga up, forcing him to play to the field and neutering his best shots (nothing for the drive, nothing for the cut), took him out with the first ball of the 7th over: a regulation dismissal, with the bowler going close to the stumps, hitting the line just outside off and getting it to hold its line. The batsman, set up to expect movement away, played at it away from the body, got the edge, and was well held by a diving Sehwag at first slip. At that point, Zaheer had bowled 19 balls without a run being scored, and a wicket in the bag (4-3-2-1 at the end of that over).
Sree's 3-0-15-0 opening salvo wasn't bad, as bad bowling goes, but it wasn't incisive enough to complement the brilliant Zaheer. And that brought the first change, with Munaf Patel coming in, and promptly getting swing and seam. While on that, it's worth mentioning that neither form of movement is pronounced, but just enough to mess with the batsman's timing.
Overall, this session was India's: they had their thinking caps on, knew what lines and lengths to bowl to each of the batsmen, had their fielders in the right place, and played as a unit. Against that, Sri Lanka's three batsmen on view have seemed a tad nervous and/or tentative, and seemingly unable yet to match the opposition's intensity.
If you had to pick a 'Man of 10 overs', Zaheer (5-3-6-1) would win hands down. With point policeman Yuvraj (who, in the 10th over, flew yards to his right to pull off a save off a Dilshan square drive) a very good second choice. Zak and the Indian fielders (and what was good to see was that everyone was committed, with the likes of Zaheer and Sreesanth producing superb saves on the line) between them ensured that Sri Lanka got off to its worst start of the tournament: a big wicket down, and not enough runs to show for it. 31/1 in 10 beats Lanka's previous lowest in this tournament -- 42/0 against Pakistan.
PS: You have to wonder just how much ink will be spilt, after this game, on the toss that wasn't. Dhoni tossed, Sanga called, no one heard what the call was -- or at least, neither Shastri who was yelling into the mike, nor Jeff Crowe the match referee, did. With rather undue haste, Shastri suggested they toss again. They did. Sanga won, and opted to take first strike.
Is that how you want to start a World Cup final? No. Is that something either team wants to have preying on their minds? Equally, no.
Madhusudhan Ramakrishnan of Cricinfo has put together an excellent compendium of statistics leading up to today's final in the ICC's quadrennial showpiece. Here are some bullet-pointed takeaways:
- India has played Sri Lanka 33 times since 2008, winning 18 and losing 13.
- Five of those 33 games were played in India, with a 3-1 record favoring the home team.
- In all games played between the two sides since 2000, India leads 11-3.
- Of these 14 games, 11 have been won by the team chasing.
- Of India's 11 wins, nine have come chasing a target against what is being touted as the best defensive bowling and fielding outfit in the business.
- However, in World Cup match ups and finals of big tournaments between the two sides Sri Lanka has won 7 and lost 2 to India.
- In these nine games that ended in results, 7 times the team batting first has won.
- In World Cup matches alone, the team batting first has won the last four encounters between these two sides.
So on it goes -- and the only real takeaway from all of this, at least for me, is the truism that statistics are at best indicative, rarely if ever normative (Australia, with 34 World Cup games won on the bounce including three consecutive finals, ended up losing two on the bounce, remember? A result that no pre-game statistical analysis prepared you for). And that is also why the best comment coming out of the rival camps, and the dozens of experts lined up by the media and television channels, actually came from Indian skipper MS Dhoni.
It is about living in this moment, he said. (Read more, in Jharna Kukreja's curtain-raising story on Dhoni's pre-game press conference.)
Dhoni also said something in an earlier game, that holds peculiar relevance today: "Play for the country, not the crowd" (See video)
Keep that in mind as the pre-game build up on television channels continues to hammer away at predictable themes: the last outing of two legends, for instance. Or the circular narrative that centers around Muthaiah Muralitharan: Lankans, past and present, often point to the fact that Sri Lanka's tour of Australia, in course of which he was systematically called on the field and off it, accused of being a cheat, was the catalyst that brought a bunch of talented individuals together as a team under the combative Arjuna Ranatunga, and played a large part in the team's successful 1996 campaign. For the fairytale to come to a fitting end, Murali needs to hold the trophy aloft tonight, they argue.
Against that, there is the other fairytale: Sachin Tendulkar, making his last World Cup appearance, playing before his adoring home ground on his home turf, one century away from attaining the peak of 100 international centuries, looking to cap five appearances on cricket's grandest stage by holding aloft the grandest prize of them all.
Nice story lines if you are looking to build narratives. Mercifully, while both teams are aware of these landmarks awaiting their own storied champions, neither is naive enough to believe this game is about either Murali, or Tendulkar. In fact, both Dhoni and Sangakkara are level-headed enough to realize that such a narrow focus could be counter-productive: A Murali, for instance, looking to finish with fairytale figures could end up over-trying and getting taken big time by an opposition that has played him ad nauseum and know his bag of tricks as well as he does himself; a Tendulkar -- if he were
selfish foolish foolish enough to allow the personal milestone to weigh over the team's requirement, could get bogged down and drag his side down with him.
Those are the dangers the two teams, and their respective champions, know too well -- and why, in their minds unlike ours, it will not be about fairytale scripts but little moments: a single stolen here, a dot ball bowled at a crucial point there, an ordinary fielder producing an extraordinary save at some other point, will be what this game turns on.
That, and strength of mind. For when two teams meet that are fairly well balanced, that know each other's game inside out, that over the past month and a half have lived a dream from which only one will awake smiling, it will finally boil down to which unit can absorb the pressures of the big occasion better.
Here's to a game worth the occasion. Once the game begins, we'll be bringing you analytical updates at 10-over intervals -- refresh for the latest.
And while you wait, here's a menu of reading/watching matter to keep you engrossed:
AR Hemant believes this is the most even World Cup final in years
Aakash Chopra analyzes the four pillars of the Lankan lineup, and what India needs to do to counter them
Akshay Iyer pays tribute to the two legends who, in their World Cup swan song, will square up to each other
AR Hemant on Gary Kirsten, the facilitator in the Indian dressing room
Video: In characteristically outspoken style, MS Dhoni reviews the team's performance in the semifinal against Pakistan
Video: Sri Lanka's outgoing coach Trevor Bayliss on his expectations for the final
Video: Mahela Jayawardene on why a win is important for Sri Lanka
Slide Show: The contrasting paths the two teams took to the final
Slide Show: It's India versus Sri Lanka, but within that frame there are mini battles between champion players of either side. A checklist
Slide Show: In Mumbai, the two teams have been quietly gearing up for the summit clash. A look at their preparations
Slide Show: Previous World Cup encounters between the two sides have produced high drama. A recap
Slide Show: The final showdown: a factfile