The Final: It all comes down to one good day

01 Apr 2011 by Raj in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011

The World Cup began on February 19, a Saturday and also culminates on another Saturday, April 2. In between, there was a month of rubbish when minnows clashed either with the big guns or against each other. And expect when Ireland were playing, it wasn’t a treat to watch. The good games, as expected, began from the quarter final onwards. Like every World Cup, this tournament also sprung up a couple of surprises with Pakistan and New Zealand making it to the final four ahead of Australia and South Africa. At the end of the day though, the top two teams and both favourites to clinch the crown have made it to the summit clash. From here on, two factors will chiefly decide the result – handling the pressure and performing better than the opponent for a major portion of 100 overs. Here’s the SWOT analysis of India versus Sri Lanka

India

Strengths: It goes without a saying that their batting in the top four is their biggest strength. If Virender Sehwag can fire like he did against Umar Gul, but for a longer duration, India’s chances get enhanced greatly. It will be a much more difficult task for Sehwag since this time he would have Lasith Malinga marching in from the opposite end. But to win the World Cup, you have to unsettle the best.

And then there is, of course, Sachin Tendulkar. While everyone is rooting for a ‘Ton’dulkar moment, it is more important for India to win the crown. A hundred in a winning campaign would, however, settle in as the perfect jewel in the crown.

Yuvraj Singh has been in the form of his life and, in hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise that he could not perform with the bat against Pakistan. Hopefully, he has reserved his best for the last. A cracker of an innings from Yuvraj would set up the match perfectly for a fitting finale. And considering his effort with the ball in the tournament so far, it is but natural that India would expect him to chip in on the big day too. Having said that, he shouldn’t be overtly burdened with expectations since the Sri Lankans are after all better players of spin that most other nations. In spite of having registered three fifties in the tournament, Gautam Gambhir has been below par. But, everyone knows he is a big match player. Expect him to rise to the occasion. Remember, he was the man who led India’s charge in the T20 final in 2007 against Pakistan.

Weaknesses: While fielding is India’s biggest hurdle in capturing the cup, the bowling is not top notch despite the marked improvements. Zaheer Khan has been at his supreme best, but Munaf Patel hasn’t always inspired confidence neither with his bowling nor with his body language. Harbhajan Singh has been below par for sure though he chipped in on two big occasions against South Africa and Pakistan. He will have to be at his very best against Sri Lanka at least with his line and length even if he is not picking up wickets. The injury to Ashish Nehra who was beginning to find his rhythm against Pakistan has added to India’s woes. In case they decide to go in with three seamers again ahead of the ever impressive Ravichandran Ashwin, they will have to pick S. Sreesanth, which would be the biggest game of M S Dhoni’s career, after all it’s a World Cup final. But, don’t be surprised if he does so. After all, he is the same man who gave Joginder Sharma the last over in the 2007 World Cup final.

India’s batting in the lower order remains a concern although Suresh Raina’s inclusion has indeed shored it up a bit. They cannot afford to falter in the batting power play overs this time else it could be all over. The likes of Harbhajan and Zaheer need to show the kind of application they did against Pakistan, for it is that additional 20-30 runs that could make all the difference at the end of the day.

Opposition: Unlike Pakistan, who hadn’t played India for over four years, it is exactly the reverse with Sri Lanka, who have been India’s most frequent opponent in the last couple of years and know their game inside out. India will have to come up with something novel to outsmart the Lankans on the big day.

Threat: The crowd would be a massive factor in encouraging Indians, but they could be pressurised as well. The Mumbai crowd has in the past shown a tendency to get volatile when the things aren’t going the way they want it to. And this could well turn out to be a demotivating factor. Team India better watch out!

Sri Lanka

Strengths: Sri Lanka have the most well-balanced outfit among all teams. While the top order batting is among the best in the world today, in Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis they have three genuine wicket taking bowlers, who can destroy the opposition if it is their day. The Indians will have to be particularly wary of Malinga since they have been undone by extreme pace in the past. Also, they haven’t played the bowler with a slinging action as often as the since he was injured for a majority of the games during the India-Lanka marathon.

Further, they have three of the top scorers in the tournament in openers Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga and skipper Kumar Sangakkara. If all three fire in the final, India would be doomed for sure. Dilshan has an excellent record against India, and can chip his arm over as well. India have to try and get him early and they would bank heavily on Zaheer for it. Even Mahela Jayawardene, though not among the top scorers, has still looked fluid and, like Gambhir of India, can be expected to rise to the occasion on the big day.

Fielding is one aspect where the Lankans have a clear cut edge over the home side. And without doubt, they would go all out to maximize the advantage.

Weaknesses: The only perceptible weak point in the Lankan side is their middle and lower order batting, which incidentally hasn’t been tested much owing to the superlative performance of the top order. While Chamara Silva is a talented batsman, he hasn’t quite fired in the tournament so far. Lankans would be hoping that he comes good if needed. Thilan Samaraweera too hasn’t had much to do apart from chipping in with a side act games against Australia and New Zealand. Their problems have been accentuated by the fact that all-rounder Angelo Mathews, a key cog in their well-oiled unit, has been ruled out. There would be a lot of pressure on his replacement Suraj Randiv. It remains to be seen whether he rises to the occasion. Except the batting, there is nothing much wrong with the Lankan team.

Opposition: Indians would have the home advantage for sure as they are playing at home. And if they stay on top, the Lankans would find it difficult to recover as the 33,000-capacity would be behind the Indians.

Threat: The biggest threat to Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaign would come in the form of a top-order batting collapse. If India could get a couple of early breakthroughs, the pressure on Lankans would be enormous thereafter.

Mouth-watering prospect!

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