New Delhi: A first all-Asian final in the World Cup’s 36-year history between India and Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Saturday underlines that familiarity breeds success.
Never before have the subcontinental teams dominated the showpiece one-day event, as India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan all made it to the semi-finals for the first time together by capitalizing on the conditions.
India and Sri Lanka played most of their matches at home and won six of their eight games. Pakistan, who face more or less similar conditions at home, also flourished before losing to India in the semi-final.
Adjustment was the key to success on low, slow tracks in the subcontinent and the south Asian sides showed they were quicker to adapt than their opponents.
Five of the six top run-getters before the final are from Sri Lanka and India, with Sri Lankan opener Tillakaratne Dilshan leading the list with 467 runs from eight matches.
He is followed by India’s Sachin Tendulkar (464), compatriots Kumar Sangakkara (417) and Upul Tharanga (393), and India’s Virender Sehwag (380).
Four of the seven top bowlers are from the subcontinent, headed by Pakistan skipper and leg-spinner Shahid Afridi with 21 wickets in eight matches.
Others are Indian paceman Zaheer Khan (19 wickets), Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan (15) and Pakistani fast bowler Umar Gul (14).
With the World Cup returning to the subcontinent after 15 years, nothing was bigger than the India-Pakistan semi-final in Mohali on Wednesday.
“The Melbourne Cup (horse racing) might stop a nation. India versus Pakistan in the World Cup stops a subcontinent,” noted columnist Peter Roebuck wrote on the cricinfo website.
“As this World Cup has reminded all and sundry once again, cricket can count itself fortunate that it took hold in this region. Certainly trouble comes along with the location, but it is well worth the bother.”
“Vast populations whose interest in the game shows no sign of waning, a rapidly rising middle class, and immense ability have been on display in this tournament. Three of the semi-finalists are from the area and they include the powerful, the impassioned and the original.”
India vs Sri Lanka may not be as big as India v Pakistan, but intensity and hunger to win the biggest prize will remain the same.
Sri Lanka are willing to risk even a half-fit Muralithran in the final.
“Chances are good that Murali will play. Such is the character of the man that he will play even with discomfort,” Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss said ahead of the final.
The world’s leading batsman and bowler are from the subcontinent, with Tendulkar the highest run-getter in Tests and one-dayers and Muralitharan the top wicket-taker in both formats.
There will be a lot at stake for India and Sri Lanka, both seeking their second World Cup. It will be the last one-dayer not only for Muralitharan, but also for Bayliss and his Indian counterpart Gary Kirsten as coaches of these national teams.
It will be the last chance for Tendulkar to become part of a World Cup-winning squad.
He is also seeking his 100th international century in what would be his sixth and final World Cup appearance.