After a long, even arduous journey, this World Cup is just a step away from its final destiny. The Australians are in the final. No surprise this. The Indians are also there and this is a surprise. And if you are an Indian it is, obviously, a pleasant, even joyous surprise.
That cricket is full of unexpected twists is a known fact. It has, very often in the past, mocked at records and produced results which were not thought possible before a game.
In 1983, the Indians turned the world upside down. They won the championship despite being 44-1 outsiders. Even today, the memory of Kapil Dev lifting the Cup in the balcony of Lord's is fresh.
"A whole generation of Indian cricketers have been inspired by that feat and we hope we can repeat it here," said skipper Sourav Ganguly, his face as grim and determined as would be on the eve of history in the making.
His demeanour at the mandatory press conference on Saturday was that of a man who was just not there. He answered questions as if by rote and was obviously in a hurry to get up and go. Who can blame him? The wait --- for the match to begin, for the action to get underway --- must be very difficult. And whatever anyone's view, Ganguly is human too.
So are the rest of his men and this is bound to be the longest night of their lives.
The players from both sides were at the Wanderers on Saturday and the contrast between the two told its own story. The Australians were relaxed, walked around with almost a swagger and behaved as if this was just another day in the office. If you have won every match you have played in the recent past, been world champions twice and are heavily tipped to do it a third time, an attitude bordering on the arrogant is par for the course.
The Indians, in contrast, were quiet, a bit tense and all the faces were grim, like their captain's in the press conference. The tension during nets was almost palpable, but then, this kind of expression was bound to be there. After all, this is a World Cup final and the Indians are not used to being here too often. In nearly three decades of the World Cup, India have been in the final only once before, the time they won the championship.
But come Sunday, one hopes that this atmosphere of silence and strain does not manifest itself on to the playing field. This is a team that is well aware of its strengths and is capable of raising its game much above the normal --- to a gear that could well surprise the Australians.
The Indians, after being badly thrashed at the Centurion by the team they now face, showed immense resilience, mental courage and skill to raise their game and play some outstanding cricket. No one doubts that they are the second best team in the tournament. Nor the fact that they are the best equipped to rattle the Australian juggernaut. One can keep counting India's strengths and rattle off the many outstanding feats that someone like Sachin Tendulkar has achieved, to say India can do it.
So what if the Australians are cool to the point of being almost icy. So what if they have the best pacemen in the world. So what if Brett Lee bowls at a bullet's pace. So what if Adam Gilchrist swats the ball around as if it were some annoying fly. So what if …
India, in response, have the best all-round pace attack in this Cup. They have a long and distinguished batting line-up and, yes, don't forget --- they have Tendulkar. Sunday could well see the best contest of this Cup and it could well see…
Keep your fingers crossed.
India: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Anil Kumble, Sanjay Bangar, Parthiv Patel.
Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Darren Lehmann, Bradd Hogg, Ian Harvey, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Jimmy Maher, Nathan Hauritz, Nathan Bracken.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor (West Indies) and David Shepherd (England).
Third umpire: Rudi Koertzen (South Africa).