India vs Sri Lanka: Familiar Foes in a Fiery Final
There is a time in all sports where none but the best are left in the contest. When all are judged unworthy for success but the top guns, who have played their very best game. This is that time. India and Sri Lanka, the top two teams in this year’s world cup T20, take each other on in an epic final tomorrow night. Both teams have been in sublime touch throughout the tournament. India barely ever looked troubled for the first few games, and in fact it was even said that they were simply not “tested enough”. However, in their previous game against South Africa, they were under the hammer as Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy mercilessly took the attack to the Indian bowlers, with even Amit Mishra, India’s trump card so far in this world cup, going for plenty. However, Virat Kohli’s inspired 72* in just 44 took India over the line quiet comfortably. For Sri Lanka, it has been a series of dominance as well, even if not as one-sided as most of India’s games. They pulled off a clinical victory over South Africa to start their campaign, before absolutely decimating the Netherlands. Although they ended up on the wrong end of the stick in their high-scoring affair against England, they came back with vengeance to defend a paltry 119 as the hapless New Zealand lineup was bowled out for 60. Their semifinal encounter against the West Indies was a close one, as Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels’ decision to take it slow and steady at the start of the innings despite the possibility of rain proved to be their own death rite as they ended up losing by 27 runs according to the D/L method. Sri Lanka might have to have gone through a considerably higher amount of strain had the entire match been played out, but it was not to be.
The key thing to notice in both sides’ extreme success has been the strong presence of one particular element: spin. Both India and Sri Lanka docked up on heir spin resources, and on the spin-friendly tracks in Bangladesh, this has proven to be a brilliant move. For India, it has been Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, and Ravindra Jadeja who have done their magic, while it has been Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, and Ajantha Mendis (though not all at once), who have done it for Sri Lanka. This has been what set these two sides ahead of other brilliant T20 teams, such as South Africa and Australia, who insisted on going in with just the one spinner per game. Therefore, I feel that apart from being just a clash between India and Sri Lanka, it’s going to be a battle between the two teams’ spinners. What strategy will Sri Lanka have for playing Ravi Ashwin’s carrom ball (which produced an absolute gem of a wicket in the game vs RSA)? Will India be tenacious in their approach towards Rangana Herath? These are some of the questions one must ask for this “spin to win” encounter.
Setting the Stage:
It’s going to be an emotional game for most cricket fans as it will be the last time we ever see Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene walk out onto the field for a T20 in Sri Lankan colors. Although both have been far from remarkable so far, it would be lovely to see them do well in this final T20I for them. On other news, it’s interesting that this final should be exactly 3 years and 3 days since the 2011 World Cup Final, which India pulled off quiet a heist to win, courtesy of MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir (you can read my emotional facebook post about it here). While India would use that as inspiration for them, Sri Lanka would want to put the past in the past and look to make a fresh start here. Also, Sri Lanka have often be teased for being a team that only makes it to the finals of tournaments, but never wins. Of course, Sri Lanka broke this tradition by winning the Asia Cup finals against Pakistan, but will want to try and finish that here as well.
Virat Kohli vs Lasith Malinga: Virat Kohli is currently in the form of his life. With 242 runs at an average of 121, he has single handedly taken the reigns of India’s batting in this tournament. Lasith Malinga, on the other hand, has had a slightly more quiet tournament, as his 5 wickets from 14 overs leaves him lower down down the wicket takers chart than he would be used to. However, that does not nullify the effect he can have one bit. Those slinging yorkers he produces, especially at death, are not by any means easy to pick. Although Malinga has painful recollections of bowling to Virat Kohli, he would still take it upon himself to run one past VK, and if he can get the in-form batsman out early, it would put India in all sorts of trouble.
Ravichandran Ashwin vs Mahela Jaywardene: Ravi Ashwin has had a brilliant tournament so far. His stash of 10 wickets from 19.2 overs at an economy rate of just 4.91 (just as a reminder, this is a T20 tournament) speaks for itself, and there is nothing more that is needed to be mentioned about his impact for India this tournament. Mahela, on the other hand, has had quiet a struggle, having scored just 45 runs across his 4 innings, barring that 89 he made against England. Despite that, Mahela is a known expert against spin, and he would want to do everything in his power to neutralize Ashwin before he can have an effect. On the other hand, Ashwin would want to try and make the veteran batsmen look like Hashim Amla did, and give him a good “send off” in his final ever T20 game.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar vs Kushal Perera: In almost all of Lanka’s games so far in the tournament, they’ve been able to rely on Kushal Perera for a strong start at the head of the innings that would set the tone for the later part. Bhuvneshwar, on the other hand, has been silently baffling batsmen with his sharp swing bowling at the start of the innings, and setting the stage for the spinners to come in for the kill. Both of them would look to dismantle each other in this epic final clash.
While there is really nothing much you would want to change in either of the teams, my only change would be to see Sri Lanka bring back Ajantha Mendis into the side, as particularly against a side with a batting lineup as reputed as India’s they would want to keep as many bowling cards in hand as they can. Although this would leave them with an extended tail, Nuwan Kulasekara and Senanayake are decent batsmen, and can give SL sufficient insurance for that spot.
India (Potential XI):
MS Dhoni (c & wk)
Sri Lanka (Potential XI):
Kumar Sangakkara (wk)
Lasith Malinga (c)