Can India end a 28-year-long drought?
In a match-up with exciting possibilities, subcontinental giants India and Sri Lanka will meet in the final of the ICC World Cup at the Wankhede Stadium here on Saturday.
Both teams appeared relaxed as they went through the practice sessions on Friday afternoon. The high-pressure game that will test the nerves of the two sides is the first title clash between them in the premier ODI competition.
India enters the match as the favourite, and expectations are high. If Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side triumphs, it will become the first home team to win the title in the World Cup.
India has the batting might, while Sri Lanka has variety in bowling. Its off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan, striving to recover from a hamstring strain, bowled at the nets. He is expected to figure in the summit clash.
Muralitharan, 38, will retire from international cricket after the final. He has 800 wickets in Tests and 534 in ODIs — the highest by any bowler in both formats.
Another legend, the in-form Sachin Tendulkar, has 464 runs from eight matches of this edition at 58.00. The ageless Tendulkar has the opportunity to complete 100 international centuries on his home ground and become part of a World Cup winning team.
Pace-bowling all-rounder Angelo Mathews, down with an injury to quadriceps, has been replaced in the Sri Lankan squad by off-spinner Suraj Randiv.
In the Indian side, left-arm paceman Ashish Nehra has been ruled out as he has a broken finger. Dhoni has said top-order batsman Gautam Gambhir, grappling with a few niggles, is fit for the fray.
The pitch is expected to offer good bounce and carry initially. As the match progresses, the surface could play slower and encourage the spinners.
India won the World Cup in 1983 when Kapil Dev's men bucked the odds to defeat the formidable West Indies in the title clash at Lord's, England.
It has since been a long and rather agonising wait for India as the side sought to reclaim the ‘cup of joy'. Sourav Ganguly's men journeyed to the final of the 2003 event in South Africa, but succumbed to the Aussie firepower in the final.
Sri Lanka, the winner in 1996 and runner-up in 2007, has consistently delivered on the big stage. The side, led astutely by Arjuna Ranatunga and powered by an unbeaten hundred from Aravinda de Silva, defeated Australia in the final in Lahore in 1996.
In the Caribbean in 2007, the side was ambushed by an astonishing century by Australian great Adam Gilchrist.
Captains on pressure, excitement
Talking to the media here on Friday, Dhoni attempted to play down the pressures of the occasion: “The team is living in the present and is not thinking too far ahead.”
Sangakkara, the other wicket-keeper-batsman captain, said: “Everyone is excited. But we are trying to control the excitement and add steel to it.”