The Sri Lankans have made Bangladesh their second home over the past few months.
Well before any of the teams had arrived for the World T20, Sri Lanka were acclimatising in Bangladesh, playing two Tests, two ODIs and two T20Is, beating Bangladesh in all three formats. Then, the went on to give a better account of their strength on sub-continental wickets in the Asia Cup. Pakistan, on a high after beating India, would have believed that 260 was defendable against Sri Lanka. Lahiru Thirimanne and Mahela Jayawardene not only took the game away from them but also helped register a five-wicket win with 22 balls to spare.
The game was played at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium. The Islanders will play their second final in less than a month at the same venue on Sunday. Given their recent success at this stadium and their bowlers’ familiarity of the conditions, the Sri Lankans should have a goodnight’s sleep. Unless the Indians want to be cheeky and slip scorecards of major finals under the doors.
The South Africans may have gained the reputation of habitual chokers yet it has been the men from the emerald island who have a disappointing record in the final of ICC events. They have competed in four finals, but have returned empty-handed on each occasion. The margins of defeat have been rather huge — 53 runs to Australia in the 2007 World Cup final, an wight-wicket loss to Pakistan in the final of the 2009 World T20, the 36 run loss to West Indies in the final of the last edition of the World T20.
However, the memory the Indians would want their opponents to carry with them on Sunday, is the loss at the Wankhede Stadium on April 2, 2011. In that game, Lasith Malinga had dismissed both Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar cheaply, yet Indians won the World Cup by six wickets and 10 balls to spare.
The worry for the Sri Lankans will be that this Indian side is playing with the kind of confidence they carried during the last 50-over Cup. In that tournament, the Indians had lost just one game to South Africa, before beating Australia (quarterfinal), Pakistan (semifinal) and Sri Lanka. At this World T20, not only have the Indians remained unbeaten but they also look unstoppable — Virat Kohli tops the run-getters list while the three frontline spinners have taken 24 wickets.
The trophy cabinets of the sides are an indication of which team holds the clear edge, in spite of Sri Lanka having an experienced bowling attack and the experienced duo of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, both set to play their last T20I games.
MS Dhoni and his team are one match away from holding three major ICC trophies at the same time, an unprecedented achievement. There are similarities between India’s last title — the 2013 Champions Trophy — and the ongoing 2014 World T20. On both occasions the team insulated themselves from controversies.
Last year, the IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal had emerged before the team headed to England. This time, Dhoni’s image had taken a beating after questions over conflict of interest had been raised. Also, during the course of the tournament it has emerged that up to a dozen players’ names have been included in a confidential report of a probe into alleged corruption in the IPL.
“Over the years that I have been the captain I have seen almost everything. There is nothing really that I have not seen in cricket. We have Indian cricketers perform at their best and at the same time we had to go through a lean patch where we had really tough times. Controversies are a big part of Indian cricket and I have been through all it. There’s hardly a good or bad thing in Indian cricket that happens without my name,” Dhoni said on Saturday.
Nearly seven years have passed since Dhoni led India to victory in the inaugural edition of the World T20. Versus Sri Lanka, who carry the baggage of losing four out of their last four ICC event finals, Dhoni’s side will hold the physiological edge. What can spur the Lankans is a collective desire to give Mahela and Sanga a fitting farewell in their last T20 International game.
‘Even Virat needs 1 ball to get out’
Sri Lanka’s stand-in captain Lasith Malinga says that Virat Kohli is a great batsman but they have the bowlers who can bowl that one good delivery which can dismiss even the greatest.
“We all know Virat is a great player. But even the greatest player needs only one ball to get out. I have a good feeling that someone from my side can bowl that one good ball tomorrow,” Malinga said.
Someone asked if him if the contest can be billed as one between Malinga and Kohli, he tried to play it down. “We have to plan for all 20 overs. They have six or seven good batsmen. We have to focus on bowling 20 good overs. Virat is a good player, but, if he gets a good ball, he too can get out.”
He made it clear that he will be the one who would go out there with Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the toss. “I will be the captain tomorrow,” he answered.
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