The stakes for India and Sri Lanka in Sunday’s World T20 final couldn’t have been any starker.
While India, the reigning 50-over World Cup and Champions Trophy champions, will be eyeing to becoming the first nation to hold all the three ICC titles at the same time, Sri Lanka will be hoping to get third-time lucky, having come up short in two World T20 finals. The Kumar Sangakkara-led side couldn’t stop Pakistan in the 2009 final in England while skipper Mahela Jayawardene met with similar fate when the West Indies ended their dreams of lifting the trophy in Colombo in 2012.
The Lankans, under a new captain, get another chance to redeem themselves at a venue where they wrested the Asia Cup not too long ago. With Sangakkara and Jayawardene set to bow out of T20Is after this event, there will be an extra motivation for the Lasith Malinga-led side to arrest their losing trend in the ICC summit clashes. The task ahead of them though is a humungous one. India, the only unbeaten team in the tournament, have been playing the best cricket in recent times and the air of confidence within the camp is unmistakable.
Between their loss to Australia in the 2007 World Cup final in West Indies to the defeat at the hands of the Caribbeans in the 2012 World T20 final, Sri Lanka have lost five title clashes in the last seven years. Their ability to implode in summit rounds is matched only by India’s proficiency under MS Dhoni to win the big matches.
India couldn’t have had a better pattern of results in the run-up to the final. While their bowlers set the first three games up for them, in the last group encounter against Australia the batsmen posted a winning total. For the first time in the tournament the bowlers came up short of expectations against South Africa in the semifinal on Friday but the batsmen, led by a scintillating Virat Kohli, made light of the big target.
Lankans’ knowledge of the conditions here is second to none and they have both the men and the means to make the most of that advantage. They showed that against New Zealand in the crucial final group match and in the semifinal against the West Indies. India, however, will pose them their biggest challenge yet.
Not unlike India, the Lankans too will depend on their spinners to deliver the goods for them. But in Indian batsmen, they will encounter a test unlike any. Ajinkya Rahane will most likely link up with Rohit Sharma at the top while there is not much scope for tinkering with the rest of the line-up. The bowling attack came under the cosh on Friday but Dhoni may back the likes of Amit Mishra and Mohit Sharma to come good again.
Just as Kohli has been the vital cog of the batting wheel, R Ashwin has been their finest performer with the ball. His carrom ball, which spun miles across Hashim Amla to crash into his off-stump, was described by Aussie great Adam Gilchrst as the T20 ball of the century and as such the off-spinner will be Dhoni’s most bankable bowler in any situation. The intensity on the field appeared to be a bit low and the skipper would have taken note of it.
Malinga said there was a good chance of regular skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who was forced to sit out of the semifinal, playing on Sunday but strangely maintained that he would still lead the side. It’s anyway Jayawardene who is making calls on the field and the master tactician that he is the Lankan think-tank wouldn’t mind the veteran player being in charge. Lanka will be hoping for some run from his blade as well. While Jayawardene has fired on and off, Sangakkara has been totally off-colour. Tillakaratne Dilshan hasn’t been his destructive self, rendering the batting a bit suspect. Some late hitting by Angelo Mathews bailed them out against West Indies, but Lanka realise they can’t afford to have a slip-up of that nature against India.