Mendis takes centrestage in final
Two days ago Sri Lanka had an opportunity to knock India - a more dangerous side than Pakistan - out of the competition, but they reduced their chances of winning by resting Chaminda Vaas and Ajantha Mendis. The move was obviously to keep Vaas fresh, and to prevent the Indians from getting first-hand experience of Mendis in case India made it to the final. As it turned out, India chased down 309 to progress to the title clash, ensuring that Sri Lanka go into the final having lost their last match, and that too to the eventual finalists.
The move was reminiscent of their tactics during the World Cup Super Eight match against Australia last year when they rested Vaas, Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan, believing it would make a difference if the teams met again in the final. They were outplayed then, as they were outplayed by India here. Their strategy then did not make much difference to the outcome of the World Cup final, and Sri Lanka will hope that doesn't happen again.
Mahela Jayawardene suggested psychological advantage from previous games would count for nothing. "We can take the positives from whatever we have done in the past," Jayawardene said. "We don't want to think about how Pakistanis and Indians have done. For us it's all about the way we have gone about in the tournament and how we can apply ourselves tomorrow. We will have a gameplan and we will try to execute that to the best of our ability."
Ajantha Mendis is a major part of that gameplan, not just due to his unique bowling style, but also because he seems to have taken the focus off the other Sri Lankan bowlers, two of whom -Vaas and Murali - are among the best in subcontinent conditions. "It's good that everyone is talking about Ajantha, so other bowlers can chip in unannounced and take three or four wickets," Jayawardene said.
India would want to forget the Kitply Cup final loss, after they had been the best side in the tournament in the league games. And although this team has been good in the finals in the recent past - they won the World Twenty20 and the CB Series - losing finals was a trend that crept in unannounced in Sourav Ganguly's team too. Before they won the famous NatWest Trophy final in England in 2002, they had played 10 finals without a single win. Ten more finals didn't result in tournament wins before CB Series triumph earlier this year.
Sri Lanka have had a role to play in India's losing streaks. They last lost to India in a tournament final in 1998, and have beaten India four times in finals since then. However, that may be of little significance as only four among the current Indian squad - Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan - were the members of the team that lost the last of those four finals in August 2005.
India's coach Gary Kirsten also doesn't read too much into the past. "We are taking this as just another game," he said. "Unfortunately in one-day cricket, if one guy has an extraordinary day, you can lose the game there. But what we can do is focus on what we do well."
The Indians have already complained about the itinerary, and the conditions are likely to suit the opposition bowlers more than their own. If they can show the mental strength to overcome those hurdles, the reward will be their first Asia Cup title since 1995.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo