India, Australia gear up for heady showdown
The Bengal Tiger and the Kangaroo will battle it out for cricket's most glittering prize.
The Bengal Tiger and the Kangaroo will battle it out here on Sunday for cricket's most glittering prize.
A resurgent, aggressive and confident India, after a dream run in the World Cup, take on the defending champions Australia in the high-voltage final at the Wanderers. Will they repeat the triumph of Kapil Dev's team at the Lord's 20 years ago, the only other time India have figured in a World Cup final?
Sourav Ganguly, who has led the side with great aplomb, certainly thinks so, saying his side is quite capable of upstaging Australia despite a humiliating nine-wicket loss to them in the league stage.
"We can match Australia in every aspect," Ganguly said. "It has been a great feeling to reach the final but now we are aiming to win the Cup."
It has been an amazing recovery by a side that came into the tournament badly brutalised from the tour of New Zealand and faced a violent backlash from fans back home after the loss to Australia. The team has won eight matches in a row, equalling its best-ever winning streak, and is the only side in the tournament that has looked capable of beating Australia.
The Aussies, who are aiming for a record third title, on the other hand, have not lost a single match in the tournament, extending their winning sequence to an unprecedented 16 games.
These two have clearly been the best sides in the event and a title clash between them is just what this controversy- ridden World Cup had asked for after the first-round exits of Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies and England.
The two teams look equally balanced on paper, both having a deep and star-studded batting line-up, and a fearsome pace bowling attack. Though India are not as brilliant a fielding unit as Australia, they have certainly picked up a great deal in recent times.
A World Cup final has never been a very close affair in the 28-year-old history of the competition but tomorrow's game promises to break that impression and provide tremendous excitement.
"Tomorrow you will find out which is the best one-day team in the world," Ganguly said, his confidence oozing from his own as well as the team's form.
Ganguly's side has halted the Aussie juggernaut before and they are well prepared to do it once again — on the biggest of stages. In 2001, the Aussies toured India — the 'final frontier' as captain Steve Waugh called it — having won a record 15 Tests in a row. They made it 16 with the win in the first Test in Mumbai before meeting their waterloo in Kolkata in that historic match best remembered for a majestic 281-run knock by V V S Laxman.
Over a billion cricket crazy fans in India, led by none other than Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself, are hoping that history would repeat itself and their team would put an end to Australia's 16-match winning streak.
The Aussies recognise the challenge they face from India but batsman Darren Lehmann put it in perspective when he said his team cannot lose just because it has not lost for a very long time.
"You lose a game if you do not play well. It is as simple as that. You do not lose only because you have won for long," he said.
But the Indians are certainly not relying only on coincidences. Most of the players are enjoying brilliant form and the team as a whole is gelling very well.
There is Sachin Tendulkar, undoubtedly the best batsman in the world, who has already amassed 669 runs in this competition -- the highest by any batsman in any World Cup. In Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh, India perhaps have the best supporting cast to complement Tendulkar.
And probably for the first time, India can boast of pace attack that can match the Aussies in its firepower and ferociousness. Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra have been simply outstanding in this tournament and ready for the one final act that will propel them to the heights of World Cup glory.
Ganguly has already outlined the task for his pacemen — expose the Australian middle order which has crumbled quite a few times in this competition though there always has been someone or the other pull the team out of the woods.
"Every team has a bit of weakness. Australia's top-order has been scoring heavily in the last six months. If you can get through them early, you might expose the middle order," Ganguly said.
And the Indian skipper was also sure that the Australians were not immune to pressure.
"They are defending their title and pressure is always going to be a factor."
The Australians have quite expectedly targetted Tendulkar with skipper Ricky Ponting admitting that his team needed to be wary of "that little fellow" who "is the best batsman I have seen or played against."
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)
Reserve umpire: Billy Bowden (New Zealand)