I will start with an interesting stat. India and Sri Lanka have met each other 21 times in one-day internationals since 1st January 2009, with India winning 12 of those and Sri Lanka 9. This would perhaps be the most prolific instance of a bilateral encounter. Their paths have been star-crossed and they meet again, with a valuable prize at stake – the title of World Champions. Come tomorrow, the attention of the whole cricketing world will be glued to Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
Sri Lanka looks in good shape ahead of the final. Their tournament has been very consistent. Barring a loss to Pakistan and a rain ruined contest against Australia, they have won every match of this tournament. Their strength lies in bowling and top order batting. The quarter final and semi final showcased Sri Lanka’s bowling prowess with the spinners reaping most of the rewards. In Lasith Malinga, they have a match-winning bowler. Malinga was not at his very best in the semi final and would be a bigger threat in the final. His slinging deliveries are hard to read particularly the ones that take the pitch out of the equation. He can be wayward as well and the Indians will be praying for Saturday to be a bad day for him. It remains to be seen whether Sri Lanka stick with their three spinners strategy that worked well against England and New Zealand. There are fitness concerns for Muthiah Muralitharan and Angelo Mathews. I think Sri Lanka should play Thisara Perera in the final for two reasons – he has a good record against India and he can be trusted to take wickets better than Mathews.
The batting looks settled though I still feel that Chamara Kapugedera is a far better option than the defensive Chamara Silva. Sri Lanka will again look to their opening batsmen to give them a rousing start and Sangakkara and Jayawardene to consolidate. They need to develop a new strategy for their lower middle order. Thilan Samaraweera should go further down the order as he would be better off carrying the tail and pushing the score along. Following Sangakkara and Jayawardene, Silva or Kapugedera should come in with Perera/Mathews sandwiched between either of them and Samaraweera.
India will have to shore up their batting big time. Batting remains India’s strong point but poor performances in the batting Powerplay during the league stage and inability to convert starts during the knockout stage have been the case this tournament. Mahendra Singh Dhoni would do well to outthink Kumar Sangakkara. But with a settled batting position, there is hardly any room to make an innovative adjustment. Dhoni needs to shed his diffidence and go after the bowling like he has done in the past. Like Sri Lanka, India too look towards it openers to get a great start.
The bowling has improved but there is still a lot of work to be done. Inability to take early wickets – and by early wickets I mean wickets in the first or second over – has been a problem. On an average, in the tournament, India has succeeded in taking the first wicket in the 9th over and the average first wicket partnership against them is 43. This should be food for thought for the seamers. If Dilshan and Tharanga are allowed to stay at the crease, then the match is as good as lost. Harbhajan Singh should derive a lot of confidence from his showing against Pakistan. India will think twice before deciding whether to play two seamers or three.
The pitch at the Wankhede stadium is expected to aid batting during the first half of the match and then assist the spinners later on. When Sri Lanka and New Zealand played earlier at the ground in their Group A encounter, Sri Lanka made 265 and won by a comfortable 112 runs. It is not clear whether the same pitch will be used for tomorrow’s final but it gives an indication of what to expect. The captain who wins the toss would decide to bat first and avoid the pressure of chasing in a big match. The final is a day/night encounter and it is debatable whether the final of a tournament as big as this should be a day/night one. Either of the teams is at the mercy of the dew at night, which means it does not give a level playing field for both the teams. This should be some food for thought for the ICC.
All said, the final should be exciting. Two illustrious players from both sides will hope for the pinnacle of their careers. Sachin Tendulkar will be playing the World Cup final at his home ground bidding to win his first one whereas Muthiah Muralitharan will be playing his last match before retirement aiming to add one more World Cup to the one he won in 1996. Sadly, one of them has to lose but cricket will be the winner on the night of April 2, 2011 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
I shall conclude with an interesting stat as well. Clive Lloyd was the tallest captain to win the World Cup at 190 centimeters while Allan Border was the shortest at 173 centimeters. For the record, Dhoni is 173 centimeters tall while his Sri Lankan counterpart Sangakkara is 179 centimeters tall. Plotting the heights of the World Cup winning captains on a trend line will give you the probable height of the captain who will win the World Cup this time. It is 180 centimeters with a 64% probability.