Finally, after almost one and a half months of non-stop cricket action, we are at the one match that matters the most, the finals. Fortunately for us Indian fans, India has made it to the finals and will play Sri Lanka, a team that is at the top of its game and very, very dangerous in sub-continental conditions. Let us look at a few aspects of this upcoming game in detail.
Indian team selection
I just read that Ashish Nehra has broken the middle finger of his right hand, and looks doubful to play in the final. If that is true, Ashwin will come back for sure. Even otherwise, Ashwin's selection was very much on the cards. Sri Lanka have 2 left-handers in the top three, and Ashwin's job should be to take out Tharanga, who has been in great form this tournament. I dont see any other change in the playing eleven for India.
Sri Lankan team selection
I am thinking SL will play Kulasekara in the final, even though he did not play the semi-final. I dont know whom he will replace, the choice is between one of the spinners, or Angelo Mathews, who is injured. The only other pacer SL have is Malinga, and I dont think they will go into the finals with 1 pacer, 1 half-fit pacer and 3.5 spinners (Dilshan is the half spinner). Murali will most likely play, even though he is very injured.
The one thing that is on my mind more than anything else regarding the conditions, is the dew. Mumbai has a fair bit of dew in the night and it was seen in one of the earlier matches. Even though this is early April, I think dew could be a factor. If medium or heavy dew is expected, then I would look to field first if India win the toss. That could reduce the threat from the SL spinners under lights in dewy conditions. If dew is not going to be a factor, India should look to bat first and put runs on the board.
Once again, like the semi-finals, the strategy for Indian batsmen should be to get after at least a couple of SL bowlers, maybe the second pacer and one of either Mendis or Herath. SL, like Pakistan, have a couple of very good bowlers - Malinga and Murali - and a few others who have been performing above potential. They also rely on Dilshan for a few overs in the middle and have 5 players who hardly ever bowl - Tharanga, Sanga, Mahela, Chamara Silva and Samaraweera. So if India can put Sanga out of his comfort zone by targetting a couple of bowlers, he will have some big worries, which, in a game like the World Cup final, is always good for the opposition.
One other change I would like to see is, Raina batting above Dhoni. Raina has shown with his 2 performances in crunch situations, that he deserves to bat higher up the order. That will give him a few extra overs to play himself in and then dictate terms to SL, which he has not had the chance to do because he has been fire-fighting in both his games so far. I want to see the Raina of last 2 years where he bullied bowlers on sub-continental pitches
With the ball, the strategy is simple - look to make SL 3 down as soon as possible. Their middle-order and lower middle order is largely untested in this World Cup and could be under serious pressure if they have to bail out the team in the World Cup final on a foreign pitch against the home team and crowd. As I said earlier, Ashwin should open the bowling with Zak and look to take out Tharanga early. If the opening partnership is broken early, that would be a big blow for SL hopes and strategies, since they have been very successful in this World Cup and in my opinion, is one of the main reasons for their success. Having a good platform is always important, especially in a World Cup final and SL, with their relatively weaker middle order below Mahela, plan their strategies around that. Even if Ashwin does nothing of note other than take Tharanga or Dilshan out, and returns analysis of 10-0-45-1, he would have done his job in my opinion.
While batting, Indian batsmen face the main threat from Malinga and Murali. Murali is at the top of his game and will definitely perform at his best in his last international game. To counter Malinga's yorkers, I would suggest that the Indian batsmen should stand at least 1-2 feet outside their crease or deep inside it. I know this is easier said than done, but at this level, I dont think pace will worry the Indian batsmen. So if they stand 1-2 feet outside or deep inside their crease, Malinga will have to alter his length and that is never easy, especially in a final. That could throw him off and it would be a huge advantage for India if their main weapon is nullified.
One other thing in terms of strategy I can think of is, the batsmen should look to target Murali in the field. Since he is carrying multiple injuries, he is hobbling around in the field. If the batsmen play to his area in the field, they can look to get extra runs. I know this sounds cruel, but this is professional sport and we are talking about the World Cup finals, so teams will look to take every advantage they can without breaking the rules. Even a few extra runs can make a difference, as we all know.
One other thing for India to watch, is the SL fielding. They are the best fielding side in the sub-continent by a fair margin, so there will be no easy runs in the field. India will have to watch their running between the wickets, or we could easily see 2-3 run-outs in this game.
This is a match between 2 evenly matched sides, who are both playing their best cricket at the moment. So I am not going to predict the winner. But I believe the battle is between the Indian batsmen and the SL spinners, so whoever wins that one, should win the game. However, I will say this. India look the better side in terms of all-round skills, while SL are dependent on a few players and have more weaknesses than India. Having said that, one of the ways this match can be won by India, is if one of their esteemed batsmen produce a one-man show, like a blistering hundred or a big hundred.
My pick for the final from India is Virat Kohli. He has had a quite tournament by the standards of his recent form, so I am counting on him to come good. With the ball, it has to be Zaheer once again. If he can take care of Sanga and Mahela, India will breathe much easier.
The final is on Friday night in U.S.A. Lets talk about it and get into the mood from now itself. Whatever happens in the final, I think India have done very well to come this far, having beaten WI, Australia, Pakistan, and tieing a game that seemed lost against England. So as Indian fans, we can be proud of that achievement. Having said that, it would be absolutely fantastic if India can produce one more performance like the semi-finals and win the World Cup !! Lets hope that happens in 1.5 days time.