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Nerves key in battle of equals

India have won high-octane contests against Australia and Pakistan; Sri Lanka have hardly been tested in the World Cup. But there’s hardly anything to choose between the two teams. Who will win the biggest prize of all? Sanjjeev Karan Samyal reports. Graphics: The grand Wankhede battle | Chappell's tactics to beat Lanka

cricket Updated: Apr 02, 2011 02:08 IST
Sanjjeev Karan Samyal

It’s hard to tell the difference between India and Sri Lanka, the two sub-continent teams that will face each other for the World Cup at the Wankhede stadium tonight.

If India has Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag as openers, Sri Lanka has Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga, the most successful opening pair in this tournament so far with two double-hundred stands and two centuries each.

If Zaheer Khan, with 19 scalps, is the spearhead of India’s bowling attack, Lanka has Lasith Malinga, with a hat trick in every World Cup he’s played. And if Harbhajan Singh leads India’s spin attack, Lanka have Muttiah Muralitharan, who has the most ODI wickets (534) and troubled the Kiwis on the Wankhede pitch less than a fortnight ago.

The captains are both wicket-keeper batsmen — one a suave and stylish left-hander, the other an unconventional but powerful hitter of the ball.

The teams have played each other so frequently in the last three years that there is hardly a surprise factor left. It will, therefore, be a battle of nerves.

Even here, the two sides are evenly placed: both have won the World Cup once — India in 1983 and Lanka in 1996 — and lost in the finals once — India in 2003 and Lanka in 2007. And both have been at the receiving end of an early assault from Adam Gilchrist in the finals they lost.

The weight of expectations is great on either side. India wants to end its 28-year wait for the Cup, and a billion people want Tendulkar to get the one prize that has eluded him so far. All in Lanka, on the other hand, want Muralitharan, playing his last international game, to go in a blaze of glory.

In the run-up to the final, although India have been through more tests than Lanka, the fact that Kumara Sangakkara’s men faced a serious challenge during the chase in the previous game means they’re just as ready for a close game.

The match will be the last outing for India coach Gary Kirsten, who has contributed a great deal to the team’s success, as also Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss, set to quit after the tournament.

In terms of injuries too, both have suffered. Ashish Nehra is out because of a finger injury, while Lanka all-rounder Angelo Mathews will be replaced by off-spinner Suraj Randiv.