Especially in recent times, India have been there and done that. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have been there but somehow been unable to do that, even if they have been remarkably consistent in getting there.
Since the 50-over World Cup in the West Indies in 2007, this is Sri Lanka’s fifth entry into the final of an ICC event. Come Sunday (April 6), they would be hoping the result of the title clash in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 doesn’t go the same way as the previous four finals.
Sri Lanka lost to Australia in the 2007 World Cup final, were beaten by Pakistan in the final of the World T20 in 2009 in England, put in their place by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and India in the final of the 2011 World Cup in Mumbai and stunned in their own backyard at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo in the World T20 summit clash in 2012.
India have made two finals in the last three years, winning both – the 2011 World Cup triumph followed by victory in the Champions Trophy in England last June. India somehow seem to hold their nerve better on the biggest stages, which prompted Dhoni to be asked if his side held the psychological edge going into Sunday’s battle at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium.
“In this format, I don’t think psychological advantage really matters because the difference between the good sides is very narrow, the reason being it’s such a short format,” replied Dhoni. “I feel it all boils down to how well you have played on that particular day and how the individuals respond to a particular situation. That will be crucial, it’s not about what we have done in the past. I don’t personally believe in stats and all, so it will be how we turn up on the field and if we can replicate what we have done in the tournament, then we have got a very good chance.”
Dhoni has been in several finals – not just ICC events, but in multi-nation events as well as with Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League and Champions League T20 – so he knows a thing or two about emotions, and what impact they can have if you allow them to dominate your thoughts. “I personally feel you have to keep emotions at bay,” he offered. “As human beings, we are all emotional but when you are playing at a professional level, it is very important that you have control over your emotions. I don’t think it really plays as a factor because over a period of time, each one has gone through a phase where they are playing a big Test match or a big tri-series final or some other game. They are quite well trained and have got the experience to control their emotions.”
Refusing to even dwell, at this stage, on the possibility of holding all three ICC titles – the World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the World T20 – at the same time, all Dhoni would say was, “That’s something that will be very good for the side. But that’s also something we can think about once we have done well in the final tomorrow. As of now, we shouldn’t really think about if we win the final tomorrow, what are the things we can achieve? What’s important for us is to play good cricket and try to contribute – whoever gets in and sets himself up as a batsman or as bowler. That will be the crucial aspect, not thinking about what may happen if we win the final or thinking about the result. We are excited about this World Cup, we hope this will be an exciting final.”
India are familiar with the brand of cricket Sri Lanka play, having locked horns with them numerous times across formats over the last several years. “Sri Lanka are a very good side, they have got a fantastic team. They have got the spinners that are needed on a track like this. At the same time, they have got experienced players and youngsters. Mahela (Jayawardene) is there, Sanga (Kumar Sangakkara) is there. They have got some exciting youngsters along with (Lasith) Malinga and Angelo Mathews, who is batting really well. Overall, they look like a very good side.”
India have won four of their five games here batting second, the last of them a beautifully constructed chase of 173 in Friday’s semifinal against South Africa. “We were really tested to some extent, the reason being in most of the games, we were chasing near 140, and this was the only game where we were chasing more than 170. There was calmness in the dressing room, we had the belief that we could chase it down because the wicket also was playing slightly better,” said Dhoni.
Weighing up the setting v chasing options, Dhoni said, “In the last two-three years, we have emerged as a team that chases well. But if you look back, in the past 75 years, we had been a team that preferred setting target, irrespective of in which conditions we played and which format we played. We got experience on both counts. But, at the same time, I don’t think there will much difference between chasing or setting a target unless there is dew or there is a vast difference in conditions or if the wicket is damp in the first innings. If there is no such situation and given how we are playing, there won’t be much difference. It all boils down to how well you have batted or bowled.”
One of the prime movers behind India’s extraordinarily clinical chase against South Africa was Virat Kohli’s 44-ball 72 not out, an innings of telling finality without a stroke being hit in anger. “Every individual is very different. Certain players play in a different way. Virat is somebody who is very different compared to someone like a Rohit Sharma or a Yuvraj Singh or a Suresh Raina. That’s how the character of the side builds. He has done fantastically well in the last few years. I feel he has been someone who has grabbed the opportunity to the best potential he had,” said Dhoni. “More often than not, you will see individuals, if they get five games, they will talk about if I get two more games, I would have done something.
“But you see Virat, the very first game he gets as an opportunity, he grabs it with both hands. That’s something that has been of great help to him. Whatever I have seen of him, he is somebody who wants to improve in every game. We try to give him an opportunity at the top of the batting order – I am talking about the initial years – and there were three-four games where he got out after a good start, after scoring 60 or 70 runs. He was really disappointed with himself and wanted to improve on that. Because of all those reasons, today you see him as a consistent performer, somebody who doesn’t throw his wicket away and at the same time scores at a pace which is very difficult to match by some of the other individuals, yet he plays very authentic cricketing shots.”
While India have the advantage of employing the same core group across formats, Dhoni said it was a double-edged sword. “All of them are T20 specialists,” he smiled. “The players who play for India are multi-dimensional. And if you see the current T20 squad, there are one or two who you can say are T20 specialists. Other than that, most of the other players are good at playing all the other formats also. In a way it helps us, but at the same time, the negative is that throughout the year, we constantly play cricket and the same set of players play all the international matches and go back and play the IPL. A congested international calendar is what we go through and that’s one of the reasons why the same set of players is good enough to play in all the formats.”