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August 8, 2005
West Indies nearly upset the pre-tournament predictions with a brave rally at the weekend, but India scraped through by seven runs to give the organisers, broadcasters and spectators the final they wanted: a heavyweight sub-continental clash between Sri Lanka and India, a re-run of the Asia Cup final last year and the ICC Champions Trophy back in 2002.
Once again, on the back of their good form in this tournament and remarkable record in one-day tournament finals on home turf (they have lost just two of the 13 finals played in Sri Lanka), Sri Lanka start as the favourites. And Rahul Dravid has been quick to seize the tag of underdogs for India, claiming that Marvan Atapattu's team are the ones with all the pressure weighing down on their shoulders.
"Sri Lanka are a dangerous side but this is a final and the pressure is obviously going to be on them," Dravid told reporters in Colombo. "They are the form team of the tournament and they are going to be expected to win at home - hopefully we can have a good day and create some more pressure for them."
As far as pre-match hype goes, this is hardly in the Don King league. It is, of course, nonsense too. The fanaticism for cricket in India, fuelled by a population over 1 billion, means that every time their players step onto the field they are the ones under most pressure wherever and whoever they play. Sri Lanka's cricket following is passionate but more laidback. A defeat is shrugged off easily and Sri Lanka's players need not barricade their homes.
In any case, this contest revolves around the toss and crucially the performance of the top orders, a problem area for both sides. Neither India nor Sri Lanka are yet to produce a really robust batting display. So far individual brilliance has papered over the failure to build consistent partnerships up top. Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif rescued India against West Indies last night and Mahela Jayawardene excelled against India in Dambulla. Both camps have admitted to concerns.
Greg Chappell repeated his "I am reasonably comfortable" theme for the tour: "The top order batting has been a concern but every game is a different game and Yuvraj [Singh] showed yesterday that there is no reason why good players cannot get runs out there. The guys at the top of the order are all keen to make runs and I am reasonably comfortable with where we are at the moment."
Marvan Atapattu, who will open with Sanath Jayasuriya after resting himself in the last game, has taken confidence from the fact that all the batsmen, barring Upul Tharanga who will be omitted, have starred in one game. But the failure to cobble together a cohesive performance remains a worry. "The fact that all of the batsmen have not clicked in one match is a bit of a concern. But all of our top-order batsmen are experienced enough to put up a better show and it has to happen tomorrow."
History tells us that 75% of the finals played at Premadasa International Stadium are won by the team batting first and whoever wins the flip of the coin tomorrow afternoon will immediately be in the driving seat. If their top-order then fires then the chasing side are faced with a mountainous challenge. The only caveat to the record book is West Indies near-success last night, one of the highest chases in the venue's history, which will give the chasing team hope.
India have been boosted by the news that Sourav Ganguly, their top scorer against Sri Lanka in Dambulla, did not fracture his arm after being hit by a nasty short ball from Daren Powell on Sunday night. "The X-rays revealed no structural damage," Chappell told reporters, "and only some soft tissue damage so he should be fine."
India's main selection dilemma will then be whether to include two spinners after Anil Kumble's fine performance against West Indies (3 for 38). "Playing two spinners is definitely an option we have but we will need to take a closer look at the pitch," Rahul Dravid told the media. If they don't play then they are left with the even trickier task of choosing between Kumble and Harbhajan Singh - Kumble appears to have his nose in front.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, are set to welcome back senior left-armer Chaminda Vaas after injury. "Chaminda [Vaas] has had a couple of good net sessions and he is now 100 per cent fit," Atapattu revealed. He could have played against West Indies on Saturday but the selectors preferred to wrap him in cotton wool and save him for the final, trusting him to deliver without a single game in the tournament thus far. Vaas was not anticipating any hiccups at training: "I have been playing so many matches and my mind is strong enough for me to come back after injury and perform straightaway."
Farveez Maharoof has impressed with bat and ball in the tournament and his place is assured. Nuwan Zoysa's waywardness and rustiness against West Indies will leave him carrying drinks and then Dilhara Fernando or Dilhara Lokuhettige will fight it out for the third seamers slot - unless Sri Lanka's selectors pull a bunny out the hat and throw the ball to Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka's smiling slinger who is a relatively unknown quantity for India's top order.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Marvan Atapattu (capt), 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 6 Russel Arnold, 7 Dilhara Lokuhettige, 8 Upul Chandana, 9 Chaminda Vaas, 10 Farveez Maharoof, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.
India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 VVS Laxman, 4 Rahul Dravid (capt), 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Mohammed Kaif, 7 Mahendra Dhoni (wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Anil Kumble, 11 Ashish Nehra.
Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondentFeeds: Charlie Austin
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