Harsha Bhogle

India start as favourites

Sri Lanka have more innovative bowlers but India bat deeper and steadier, and have beaten their toughest oppositions in their previous two games

Harsha Bhogle
Harsha Bhogle
This rough magic: Dhoni's handling of Yuvraj has given India the option of playing an extra seamer  •  AFP

This rough magic: Dhoni's handling of Yuvraj has given India the option of playing an extra seamer  •  AFP

The two best teams in the tournament, and by no coincidence led by the two finest captains, will contest the final. Nothing can be better for what has been an outstanding event. The World Cup has given new life to the 50-over game and it has been hosted with great passion in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and in India. Now it has a dream final.
India will start favourites because they seem the more rounded of the two sides. They have players for most occasions and have batting match-winners of extraordinary pedigree. More important, as the tournament draws to a close, they seem to have a better idea of the combination they must believe will bring the World Cup home.
Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar are the best opening pair of the tournament, though by sheer weight of runs Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan will contest that. After the 175 against Bangladesh, Sehwag has been playing cameos, a bit like a brilliant actor working two shifts and leaving quickly after having delivered his lines impeccably. But even if he only does that, he makes it much easier for the batsmen to follow; especially, he takes the load off Tendulkar, who, apart from a quixotic phase in the semi-final, is batting as well as he ever has. The one thing he doesn't have in his gallery, a winner's medal, is a step away and I will be very interested in seeing how he keeps ambition at arm's length in the final.
India have resolved what is becoming a key position in this World Cup: Suresh Raina has batted with much confidence against Australia and Pakistan. Truly he has won back his spot and it has been wonderful to see him field, an area India are rather thinly endowed in. And Dhoni's extraordinary handling of Yuvraj Singh means he has the option of playing an extra seamer as he did against Pakistan. By working on his bowling Yuvraj has given himself the time to rediscover his batting form, paradoxical as that might seem.
India will come to Mumbai with their confidence soaring after back-to-back wins against opponents against whom they have had their most bruising encounters. And I have no doubt that Dhoni will not allow a win against Pakistan to be rated higher than any other. It cannot be so. It was a semi-final, not a final.
Indeed, Dhoni's leadership has been outstanding. He has backed his hunches and taken calls that might have seemed bizarre at the time, but always he has stayed calm and in control. It is a wonderful quality for a leader to possess. Having taken India to a World Twenty20 title, to the No. 1 spot in Test cricket, he now has the opportunity of winning a World Cup.
Arrayed in front of him are Kumara Sangakkara's mild, humble men, who become mighty competitors on a cricket ground. They have the most wonderfully innovative bowlers, men with unique styles and actions and who come at you from different angles. The top four batsmen are in brilliant form, and like India they are led by a man with extraordinary poise and assurance. Unlike India, though, they haven't quite ticked all their boxes yet.
Dilshan, Tharanga and Sangakkara have batted with great assurance, but after them, Mahela Jayawardene, another big-match player, hasn't had enough time in the middle, and Nos. 5, 6 and 7 appear a bit fragile. I believe Angelo Mathews should be the highest of those numbers, but he seemed to be in some pain in the quarter-final. If he is handicapped, and cannot bowl, for example, the Sri Lankans will lose the one outstanding feature they possess: the balance to the side. Mathews must bowl, otherwise the bowlers will start occupying positions from No. 7, and that would be dangerous. It must be a worry, too, that neither Thilan Samaraweera nor Chamara Silva has looked in good form. Sri Lanka look vulnerable if someone can penetrate their excellent top order early.
Hopefully Muttiah Muralitharan will be ready for the big day. He has had an extraordinary sense of drama to his life, picking up wickets with the last balls he bowled in Tests and in one-dayers in his country. Winning a World Cup and retiring would be a dream come true. In the home dressing room, too, they will be aware that the best present they can give Tendulkar is a World Cup medal. There will be some emotion in both camps.
Hopefully it will be a match worthy of a final, but even if it isn't - and the last three haven't been - it will not take away from what has been a really good World Cup.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here