India’s final countdown

Jharna Kukreja Chauhan
cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

"Till the full stop
doesn't come, the sentence is not complete."


It's the latest analogy from Indian skipper Mahendra Singh
Dhoni during India's 2011 World Cup campaign. It's also not the first; Dhoni previously
compared his teammates to Formula one cars who were tuned up for a Sunday race,
and then equated their fielding talent to old engines that don't improve with
hybrid fuel. His latest comparison comes a day before his team attempts to
complete their journey and establish themselves as ODI world champs.


Always associated with the adjective 'cool', Dhoni had no
plans to change his approach on the eve of the big final. His interaction with
the media in Mumbai saw him harp on the fact that they were not dwelling on the
result, which could hamper their preparation: "One good thing was that we
didn't have a long break in between the semi-final and the final. Yesterday was
a travelling day and today a practice day. That really helps you not think
too much ahead of the future. You are in the moment. In a way it's good, you're
not thinking too much of the future, you're just being in the present and
preparing yourself for the big game."


The Indian captain knows that over a billion hopes rest on
his boys' shoulders but is also mindful of the fact that this is a game which
causes fate and fortune to change everyday. He described how he saw on TV, pictures
of people outside his home in Ranchi celebrating India's win over Pakistan in
the semis and recounted how this was the same house that people chose to
vandalise after India's first round ouster in the previous edition of the World


Who is the 4th


Dhoni clarified that Ashish Nehra was in all probability
ruled out of the Cup's grand finale due to multiple fractures, but he wasn't
ready to give in on who would be the fourth bowler in India's line-up.


Speculation was that Ashwin would be the obvious choice,
based on his performance in the two games he's played so far but Dhoni said the
decision was a tricky one as the wicket at the Wankhede has a bit of pace and
bounce for the seamers, "Initially if there is a bit of a reverse seam going, the
third seamer can have an impact. When all seamers are bowling well I'm able to
manoeuver more with the bowlers. When you play an extra spin bowler in place of
a third seamer it gets difficult to do that. Ashwin has done well but we still
aren't clear whether we need to go with three seamers or two spinners."


Would that mean talented but temperamental Sreesanth gets
another turn? Sreesanth has had only one game so far, the tournament opener
against Bangladesh where he was pulled off after his 5 overs conceded 53 runs.
His aggression as always has been under the scanner but Dhoni said he wasn't
thinking about it: "The only person who can control Sreesanth is Sreesanth.
It's beyond my control. He gets excited for big games so if he gets a chance to
play he'll be in a good frame of mind. Sree has done well for us. He is one
person who can swing the ball both ways and get early wickets."


Tossing and turning


It's obvious that both teams want to bat first. Dhoni believes
that the reason for this doesn't necessarily lie within the wicket: "It's a big
game - the final. Most teams would love to bat first, put up runs and put
pressure on the opposition. I feel that's the only advantage of winning the
toss. The wicket might get a bit slower as the game progresses but aside from
that I don't see too much difference apart from handling the pressure which may
be more in the second innings compared to the team batting first." Sri Lanka
who defeated New Zealand at the Wankhede in the league stage by batting first would
share India's opinion if Sangakkara wins the toss.


Sachin's WC swan song


So much has been said since months - no years - about Sachin
Tendulkar's dream of winning the World Cup. Most expect tomorrow to be his last
ODI (though there has been no confirmation) and it is definitely his last World
Cup match. In a career that has seen 99 international hundreds, over 32,000
international runs and India reaching the number 1 position in Tests - the World
Cup is of course the missing cherry on top.


His current skipper summed up the make-up of the man, "He's
always 100% there. Whenever he's on the field he's there with a purpose. Till
that purpose is resolved he won't leave the field. His attitude hasn't changed.
Most people would get bored in 21 years but not him. God has just made him to
play cricket."


Peaking for D-day


Unlike Sri Lanka, who were tested only in their loss during the league phase to Pakistan, India has faced several challenges throughout the tournament. The Indian captain agreed that they had not played to their 100% potential but feels they have peaked at the right time: "If you're too intense at the start, it gets difficult to keep it going for more than 35-40 days. But the format of the tournament has helped us; it's allowed us to get into our groove."


India and Sri Lanka have faced each other in so many ODIs over the past couple years that they had started to induce a yawn, but Saturday's game unlike any of those will have both nations gripped and glued to their seats.


And now that India has got its groove going they'll be attempting to achieve what no one has ever done before - to lift cricket's biggest cup in their own backyard.