Home » India » World Cup final: A nation holds its breath

Mumbai:India – indeed, the world – is waiting, with baited breath, for Sachin Tendulker  to craft the ultimate fairytale: his 100th international ton, in the World Cup final, before his adoring home crowd. But for the last three days at least, the master’s mind might well have been racing down memory lane – to 1996.

That momentous year too, India had crushed Pakistan in an emotionally-charged encounter in the World Cup; then too, they had the little matter of strolling past srilanka  to ‘pick up’ the coveted trophy.

Fifteen years down the line, circa now, the first chapter has already unfolded: unlike feared, India outsmarted Pakistan and  Srilanka  are already in wait. This is, of course, one step up – the final, rather than the semifinal as it was in 1996.

Tendulker was the man in prime form then too;  Muttiah muralitharan is the only other player still in the picture from that bygone era. The Lankan off-spinner was just a vital cog then; now, he is the one man who can destroy India’s fairytale again.

India won’t be losing too much sleep over him though; their bigger concern is the mood raging across the country. Just like last time, everybody is behaving like the team has already won the Cup; just like then, and very ominously at that, everyone is already in celebration mode.

Tendulkar would be aware of the dangers of premature euphoria; 13 years prior to that Lankan blow at Eden Gardense, West Indies had made the same mistake. They thought they had already won the World cup and ended up losing it, despite an awesome collection of match-winners.

India can’t afford to be caught off guard again. There is a hint of fragility in their batting and more than a touch of unpredictability in the bowling, you never know when the fielding will come apart either.

The good news is that Tendulkar will be showing that page from history to anybody who dares to race ahead of time; equally reassuring is the presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni  i at the helm. The captain comes into his own when pressure peaks, when nothing else matters, when destiny is in his hands.

He may not be foolhardy enough to take a mighty gamble, or blindly follow his instincts in this big game; but expect him to take a few chances, to stun you with one or two ‘strange’ moves. Nobody knows if he will be lucky this time too, or if a backfire is round the corner.

Out here in the fortress called Mumbai, there are no such fears. Excitement has already hit the roof while the scramble for tickets has only become more frenetic. The who’s who of India have promised to be there, cheering every shot and every wicket  and ‘inevitable’ victory.

Will even fate have the courage to intervene? If it does, it will have to first stop Virender Sehwag from exploding, prevent Tendulkar and Gautam Ghambhir from dropping anchor, Yuvraj  Singh and Virat Kohli from gathering momentum and Dhoni and Suresh Raina from going for the kill.

It won’t be easy.Srilanka though might think fate answers to the names of Lasith Malinga, Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis; if there is any assistance in the track, they will exploit it sooner than you can say Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vass  (the last-minute replacement for Angelo Mathews and the only other player on either side who featured in the 1996 semifinal).

Ironically, India’s bowling suddenly looks dodgy after Ashish Nehra’s injury. Dhoni might be forced to bring back R Ashwin. Knowing the skipper’s luck, don’t be surprised if the spinner turns out to be the ace in the pack. It will be even more chilling if he returns to S Sreesanth and the volatile pacer produces a match-winning show.

If the three Ms don’t weave their magic, Sri Lanka won’t despair, they can still count on their batting. Dilshan, Mahela and Sangakkara are game-changers and they know this is the time to displace Ranatunga and  Aravinda de Silva in legend. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough depth in the order or solidity lower down.

Tendulker  understands the stakes attached; he has the little matter of completing his destiny too. The 100th ton is beckoning: he couldn’t have hoped for a better place, or a better setting, to reach the magical milestone.

It will be the perfect homecoming for India after 28 long years; it is definitely the right time to bury the ghosts of 1996.

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