Any which way you look at it, a massive slice of history is in the offing.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his India, young, bold, brave and forceful, are within one win of becoming the first team to hold all three ICC trophies simultaneously.
Sri Lanka, having jettisoned Dinesh Chandimal and elevated Lasith Malinga to the captaincy midway through the competition, are that very same win away from shedding their tag of eternal bridesmaids and making the final Twenty20 International appearances of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene memorable for all the right reasons.
These aren’t necessarily the factors that will add spice to the final of the ICC World Twenty20 2014 on Sunday (April 6) night, but as the external world looks for such immeasurables as extra motivation and added inspiration, such elements do come in handy.
As if you needed more motivation when you are playing the final of a World Cup. As if there is something called added inspiration. If you can’t get yourself up for a game as significant as the deciding clash of a tournament with the title of World Champions as the ultimate reward, you might as well not play the game at all.
In all ways imaginable, this is at once the classic contest and the most deserved of title clashes. The two best teams over the last fortnight rightly come face to face in the most subcontinental of conditions, though what intrigue the surface at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium holds in the final remains to be seen.
Having thrown up slow spinners all the way through, the Sher-e-Bangla unfurled its best batting surface in India’s semifinal against South Africa, resulting in the tallest scoring match under lights at a venue notorious for modest totals when the floodlights take effect.
With Virat Kohli, regal and pristine, playing with such authority and fluency, India made light of a daunting chase of 173 against a well-rounded attack, the six-wicket victory attained off the first ball of the last over a massive confidence boost as they lock horns with familiar friends.
Historically, the India v Sri Lanka rivalry has been notable for the camaraderie and the bonhomie that exists between the sides. There is no needle, no bad blood, no verbal sparring despite the presence of ultra-competitive individuals on both sides; that’s a tribute to the maturity as well as the character of the players, who get along famously off the field even if they leave nothing behind once they cross the white line.
Sri Lanka fired the first salvo in the rivalry in ICC competitions dating back to 1979 when, as an associate nation, they stunned India in the World Cup. Their most notable successes came in 1996 when they defeated India in the league phase in New Delhi, and then sensationally knocked them out of the semifinals at the Eden Gardens in a game that wasn’t allowed to go the distance after a volatile crowd vented its anger at its heroes’ abject surrender.
Since then, the tide has turned. India have had the better of the exchanges including, most famously, on April 2, 2011, when Dhoni masterminded an epochal triumph in the final of the World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium in front of thousands of emotionally charged fans in Mumbai.
That loss must have been particularly hard to digest for Jayawardene, who became the first batsman to score a hundred in a losing cause in a World Cup final, and for Sri Lanka as a whole, increasingly desperate at their inability to convert appearances in ICC finals into trophies in the cabinet.
Starting from 2007, Sri Lanka have lost in the final of four ICC tournaments – the 50-over World Cups in the Caribbean in 2007 and the subcontinent in 2011, and the World T20s in England in 2009 and, most painfully, at home at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo 18 months back when they ran into a tartar in Marlon Samuels. Four times, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s most famous cricketing sons, cricketing brothers intertwined by their passion and the undying desire to make the tiny teardrop island a global force across formats, have been left heartbroken, their attempts at picking up at least one world title as just reward for decades of toil through rain and shine running into one unyielding roadblock after another.
Sunday offers this admirable duo perhaps a final realistic chance of filling that void. Before the start of the tournament, both men announced their decisions to bid adieu to T20Is at the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s campaign. Few would have genuinely envisaged a scenario where the going-away gift could be a winner’s medal. Malinga has said he and his lads would like it win it for ‘Kuma and Mahela’; who is to say they can’t do it.
Dhoni, typically understated and steering clear of all the fuss and the hype, chose to play down the possibility of becoming the first man to hold all three ICC limited-overs trophies at the same time. One of Dhoni’s many fascinating traits is his ability to stay in the present, to not presuppose and allow his mind to wander. It’s a trait he has methodically instilled in his teammates, who aren’t unaware that history is beckoning but who would not allow themselves to get bogged down by that prospect.
Sri Lanka came in as one of the pre-tournament favourites, having spent time in Bangladesh and making it count by going all the way in the 50-over Asia Cup last month. They have remained unaffected by the dumping of Chandimal – let’s face it, that’s what it is – and found a man for every crisis, even if neither Sangakkara nor Jayawardene has set the stands afire. Perhaps, the old dogs are saving it for the final.
India, by contrast, were reasonably low in the pecking order before a ball was bowled. Their 20-over form wasn’t so much a concern as non-existent, given that they had only played five T20Is in the 18 months between the two World T20s. With events mushrooming from the spot-fixing scandal at IPL 7 soon after their arrival in Bangladesh, it was expected that they would beat a hasty retreat, again. Instead, they have confounded everyone with their remarkable consistency with bat and ball; five straight wins have given them a glorious chance of replicating their stirring triumph in the inaugural World T20, and augmenting their status as cricket’s financial superpowers with on-field accomplishments as well.
There is little India don’t know about Sri Lanka, just as Sri Lanka would hardly be taken by surprise at whatever India throw at them. Familiarity, in this instance, will not breed contempt.
India: Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Mohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Seekkuge Prasanna, Sachithra Senanayake, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga (capt), Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis, Thisara Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Suranga Lakmal.