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Tournament's best at final hurdle

The defending champions didn't make it, the strong contender choked. Now, we have the first all-Asian final

Who will hold it for real tomorrow?  •  AFP

Who will hold it for real tomorrow?  •  AFP

The Big Picture

The defending champions didn't make it, the mercurial outsiders stumbled, the strong contender choked, the Ashes winners ran out of gas, and after six weeks of high drama, we have come to this: the first all-Asian World-Cup final. And they deserve to be there: five of the top six run-getters, two out of top five wicket-takers, the fielder with the most catches and the wicketkeeper with the most dismissals will all be on show. The two teams have rallied around two of the best modern-day captains: MS Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara.
Sangakkara is a fiercely ambitious man. Arjuna Ranatunga was almost the freedom fighter, infusing self-respect and clearing the colonial hangover, Mahela Jayawardene was the astute captain who brought so much tactical nous and cricketing intelligence, and Sangakkara is trying to add ruthlessness. Ranatunga pushed the boys to become men, Jayawardene made the men self-aware, and Sangakkara is trying to turn them ruthless. The evolutionary journey has produced a World Cup triumph, a runners-up finish and now, a chance to win it for the second time.
Sangakkara's dream, however, has been hit a nightmarish blow with the injury to Angelo Mathews. Even Muttiah Muralitharan won't be 100% fit. Mathews' absence severely affects the balance of the team and adds huge pressure on an already brittle lower-middle order, where Chamara Silva and Thilan Samaraweera haven't exactly set the tournament alight. Silva, who dazzled in the 2007 edition, has proved combustible in this tournament. Samaraweera is there to manage a collapse, and he did that really well in the curtailed game against Australia. Neither has Mathews' talent to turn a 225 score into 275.
To state the obvious, Sri Lanka will now heavily depend on Tillakaratane Dilshan, the captain and Mahela Jayawardene if they are to put up or chase down a daunting target. They will now have to bat with the knowledge that the lower middle order might not withstand a top-order collapse. Dilshan, though, is in great form, Sangakkara has looked as gritty as ever and while Jayawardene is yet to really flow, he can be always be counted on to come good in pressure games. And Sri Lanka have a varied bowling attack to defend even relatively unsafe totals and the ability to restrict the opposition from piling up too much.
MS Dhoni is a quietly ambitious man. Sourav Ganguly was passionate, Rahul Dravid was process driven, Anil Kumble led from the front with his grit, while Dhoni has been an intuitive captain. He is level-headed, and shrewd enough to marry passion and process. He has soaked up the pressure of being India's captain, is smart enough to know the value of his own brand, and keeps his star-heavy team rolling smoothly with the aid of Gary Kirsten. India's previous two victories, against Australia and Pakistan, have ironed out many of the flaws seen earlier in the tournament. However, those two wins also raise the question of India being emotionally drained. Do they have fuel left in them to raise their game one final time?
The batsmen, who had perhaps tried too hard to compensate for the relatively weak bowling attack by trying to do too much in the end overs and collapsed in the batting Powerplay, seem more aware of identifying a viable target. Someone or other has taken charge during tricky chases. Yuvraj Singh showed tenacity in the chase against Australia, and Suresh Raina maturity in his shot selection against Pakistan.
The poor performance in the early part of the tournament seems to have freed up the bowlers. Expectations are lower and the pressure is off in some ways, allowing them to show better discipline and skill. Munaf Patel has greater control over his legcutters and Harbhajan Singh has slowed up the pace to give himself a better chance to take wickets.
In the last two years, Sri Lanka and India have won eight games apiece against each other. In the last year, the record stands 4-3 in Sri Lanka's favour. In their last five encounters in India, though, the record stands 3-1, with one no result, in the home side's favour. However, these two teams have played each other so often - tomorrow's final will be the 30th time since July 2008- that they should know everything there is to know about each other.

Form guide

(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWWWW

Watch out for...

Sachin Tendulkar has the records, the mountain of runs and memorable Man-of-the-Match performances but there are a few things that have eluded him: a Test innings like Brian Lara's 153, a Ponting-esque record in World Cup finals and, indeed, a winner's medal. He has openly talked about his thirst for that World Cup triumph and has played his part in India's journey to Mumbai by being their top scorer. Will he achieve his dream tomorrow?
Muttiah Muralitharan has written some great scripts for himself: a memorable last Test match where he took the last wicket to get to the magical 800, a fabulous performance almost on one leg in his last ODI at home and now, with one World Cup winner's medal in the bag, he has the chance to end with another. He will fancy his chances against the Indian middle-order; he is likely to go around the stumps and aim for lbws with his off breaks and edges with his doosras. Can he script yet another great farewell?
Virender Sehwag's knock against Pakistan, defying the nerves of a World Cup semi-final, was vital in ensuring India could soak up the middle-over wobbles and reach a competitive score. If there is one man who can put up a nerveless display again in the final, it's him. It will be interesting to see how he plays the Sri Lankan spinners. Will he continue to, as he has done during this tournament and perished a few times, try hitting the spinners almost solely through the off side?
Mahela Jayawardene hasn't scored much after that 100 against Canada but all along, and even ahead of the tournament, he has been talking about his itch to perform in the big games. He has the skills to tame the Indian attack and the elegance to do it in style. It was a hundred in the semi-final of the 2007 World Cup against New Zealand that proved a major turning point in his career. "That hundred gave me confidence that I can do it at this big stage," Jayawardene said. "Ever since that moment I have probably lifted my game quite a bit and turned into a big-match player." Will he turn up for Sri Lanka tomorrow?

Team news

Ashish Nehra has been ruled out of the final and the Indian camp hasn't made it clear whether R Ashwin or Sreesanth will play. This is what Dhoni said when asked a direct question: "That is a tricky one. If you see the Mumbai track there is a bit of pace and bounce for the seamers initially. Also if there is reverse swing going the third seamer can have an impact on the game. At the same time if the three seamers are bowling well I can easily manoeuvre the bowling. But with four spinners and two fast bowlers there is not much room to manoeuvre too much."
And just when you think that's a clear hint Sreesanth will play, Dhoni adds, "If one of the fast bowlers has an off day it gets difficult. Still, not to forget, in whatever opportunities Ashwin got so far he has done really well. We have confidence in him. But we have not yet thought our bowling combination yet."
India (probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Suresh Raina, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Sreesanth/Ashwin, 11 Munaf Patel.
Sri Lanka have drafted Suraj Randiv into the squad but in Mathews' absence they will most likely turn to Thisara Perera, who almost doubles his career average of 19, and has a strike rate of 146.98, when he plays against India. It remains to be seen whether they will take the brave decision to play Randiv ahead of Rangana Herath. Randiv has played 13 games against India, with 12 wickets at an economy rate of 4.57, while Herath has played just one game against India. Herath has been playing regularly in this tournament, though, while Randiv has been drafted in from the cold.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Thilan Samaraweera, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Lasith Malinga, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Suraj Randiv/Rangana Herath.
Try picking the XIs for tomorrow's game by playing Team Selector.

The hot summer has transformed the nature of the pitch from the one on which Sri Lanka beat New Zealand. It's a dry surface and the curator Sudhir Naik was quoted in Times of India as saying that 260-270 will be an excellent score batting first.
There have been only ten day-night games at this venue and Sri Lanka achieved the highest successful chase, overhauling India's 225 in 1997. The highest score by a team batting second under lights is 250. The chasing team has won four out of ten games under lights though.

Stats and trivia

  • Dhoni's career ODI average is 48.04 but it falls to 22.37, with a highest score of 34, in 11 World-Cup games.
  • The Sri Lankan openers average 97.90 at a strike-rate of 90.10, while the Indian openers average 53.90 at a strike-rate of 102.06.
  • India have a better DRS record than Sri Lanka. India have made 14 appeals out of which three have been successful. Sri Lanka have had only one successful appeal in 10 attempts.
  • Yuvraj Singh is the third Indian, after Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, with five fifties in a single World Cup.
  • For more stats, click here.


    "I am a bit concerned about Sri Lanka's middle order. Mahela Jayawardene has failed to fire and the middle order is struggling a fair deal."
    Arjuna Ranatunga, former world-cup winning captain, sweats over potential pitfalls
    "You want to end the tournament on a good note. It's a big game for all of us. Irrespective of what the result is I am proud of the team I have."
    MS Dhoni on the eve of the final

    Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo