History beckons India, Sri Lanka at Wankhede (Preview)

April 1st, 2011 - 7:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Sachin Tendulkar Mumbai, April 1 (IANS) Backed by an euphoric home crowd, India clash with Sri Lanka in the first all-Asian cricket World Cup final here Saturday with both teams relying on their awesome batting prowess to inspire them to win the trophy a second time.

India had won the World Cup in 1983 and Sri Lanka in 1996.

The momentous final at the swanky Wankhede stadium will surely see two legends — Indian master batsman Sachin Tendulkar and legendary Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan — squaring off one last time in an international match.

The enticing possibility of a Tendulkar-Muralitharan face-off, however, depends on the match-fitness of the magician bowler, who is nursing a knee injury and a quad muscle problem.

“Murali is a big match player. We will have an assessment later in the day,” said Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara.

Tendulkar, the world’s highest run-getter in both Tests and ODIs and one short of the magical figure of 100 international centuries, would turn 39 later this month and may not be there at the next edition. Muralitharan, the world’s highest wicket-taker in both Tests and One-dayers, has already retired from Test cricket and would take a bow from the shorter version after Saturday’s game.

India’s 29-run win over subcontinental neighbours Pakistan in the Mohali semifinal has sent passions soaring from Kashmir to Kankyakumari, from Gandhidham to Guwahati. A hundred from Tendulkar would not only enable him reach the much-awaited personal milestone in his hometown but also set the stage for an Indian triumph to raise the excitement to a crescendo.

Playing their third final, India would fight to repeat the memorable triumph at the hallowed Lord’s turf 28 years ago by a band of bravehearts led by the redoubtable Kapil Dev to shake up cricket world by humbling the mighty West Indies.

That remains India’s lone World Cup triumph, though eight years ago Sourav Ganguly’s team came close to winning the Cup again before Ricky Ponting’s Australians dashed their hopes in the final at the Wanderers.

In their maiden World Cup final in the subcontinent, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side would look for another professional display from the top order, which has three players among the 10 highest run-getters of the tournament.

Tendulkar (461) is the second highest scorer after Sri Lankan Tillakaratne Dilshan (467 runs). His opening partner Virender Sehwag (380) has been providing India’s explosive starts, unsettling the opponents in the initial overs.

Gautam Gambhir (296) and Virat Kohli (247) have also done well while Suresh Raina, a late replacement for Yusuf Pathan, played crucial unbeaten cameos against Australia and Pakistan in the knock-out games. He made 34 against Australia and 36 against Pakistan in the semifinal, where India, for once, used the batting powerplay (45-49 overs) judiciously to score 43 runs for the loss of just one wicket.

In the semifinal, Sehwag got a quickfire 38, hammering Pakistan’s best bowler Umar Gul while Tendulkar finished at 85. Yuvraj Singh, aggregating 341, is another player Sri Lanka should be wary about. The flamboyant left-hander has regained his touch with the bat and also been a revelation with his part-time spin, grabbing 13 wickets.

Pacer Zaheer Khan, who has half-a-dozen more wickets than Yuvraj, has admirably led the attack, rejuvenating it after an indifferent start. The bowling was at its best in the semifinal against Pakistan.

With left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra (2-33 in the Mohali game) ruled out for the final with a fractured right middle finger, Dhoni has the option of using offie Ravinchandran Ashwin, while seamer S.Sreesanth could also be in with a chance if Dhoni decides to retain a three-two pace-spin combination. He had successfully used this in the semifinal and seemed to have finally zeroed in on his five bowler combination after experimenting through the tournament.

Like with India, Sri Lanka’s top three batsmen are among the five highest scorers in the tournament. Dilshan has demolished attacks and tops the batting list. Sangakkara (417) is fourth, but averages an astounding 104.25. Upul Tharanga (393) is slotted at five.

The visitors also seem a notch above the Indians in the bowling department, with the spin trio of Muralitharan, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis well backed by pacer Lasith Malinga (11) and all-rounder Angelo Mathews, doing a good demolition job. Muraliatharan (15) and Malinga (11) have been their strike bowlers.

Sri Lanka could take heart from a better (4-2) win-loss record against
India in earlier editions of the big-ticket competition. The tourists also won the bilateral series in the island nation 3-2 last year, but trail India 50-67 in overall ODI matches as also those played in the sub-continent (46-59) between the two.

At Wankhede, the two teams have met twice, winning one each. However, while India have not played a single match at the revamped Wankhede in the tournament, the Lankans have the advantage of being familiar with the conditions as they recorded an emphatic win over New Zealand here in the group stage.

Teams (from):

Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (captain/wicketkeeper), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dilhara Fernando, Rangana Herath, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Thisara Perera, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Upul Tharanga.

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Virender Sehwag, Ravichandran Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virat Kohli, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, Sreesanth, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh.

Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan)
Third umpire: Ian Gould (England)
Fourth umpire: Steve Davis (Australia)
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)
Match starts at 2.30 pm

–Indo-Asian News Servuce

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