There will be one winner when India take on Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in Mumbai on April 2nd. Sri Lanka may hold the upper hand, leading India 4-2 in their encounters but they may just find this Indian side a tad different from the earlier ones who rolled over and gave up far more readily.
Their 1996 World Cup encounter where the match was awarded to the Lankans in the face of a rioting crowd at the Eden Gardens, is a thing of the past. A rampaging Sourav Ganguly avenged that defeat three years later in Taunton, when he blew the opponents away with his blitzkrieg of 183 off 158 balls. In 2003, later finalists India managed to bowl Sri Lanka out for just 109 in response to their 292, with Srinath and Nehra taking 4 wickets each and Zaheer chiming in with 2 of his own. The picture reversed four years later, when Muralitharan played the chief architect of India's destruction and dismantled them with three wickets off his spell. The last three names, Nehra, Zaheer and Muralitharan, will have crucial presences in Saturday's final.
On the Indian side, Virender Sehwag continues to play a crucial role by just being around. When he performs, he gives his side the initial momentum to capitalise on. On the other hand, when he refrains from histrionics and returns early, he switches the remaining players to rescue mode and ensures that they take the remainder of the innings very seriously indeed. If he can do to pacer Malinga what he did to Umar Gul in the semi-final, the Lankans may just have a hefty Indian total to contend with. Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, too, have proven impossible to plan against, getting their runs off quicks when it suits them and pacing themselves to the slower bowlers when it strikes their fancy.
Similarly, for the Lankans, Upul Tharanga and Tillekeratne Dilshan have provided dream starts to the extent that their middle order is yet to be fully tested. And even if India are able to dismissing both early , they'll have to contend with skipper Kumar Sangakkara who is on the top of his game.
On a pitch which had assisted fast bowlers in the first game, Sri Lanka toppled New Zealand with spin later in the tournament. Sri Lanka will have the advantage of having played at the Wankhede earlier while this will be the first game there for the Indians in this World Cup. Kumar Sangakkara made the previous match his own and will have fond memories of the first century he scored in almost three years. With bowing skill and variety of the likes of Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, and Lasith Malinga bolstering the line-ups, both sides should favour sturdiness over flamboyance at every stage of the match, as they have done thus far. At the end of the day, it will come down to how India's batsmen play the Lankan bowlers.
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