David Leggat on sport

David Leggat is a Herald sport writer

David Leggat: Batting first could be vital for tournament's finest teams

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Here's your ideal scenario for the World Cup final.

Sachin Tendulkar scores his 100th international century for India, and a hobbling Muttiah Muralitharan snaffles four wickets to become the highest wicket taker in the Cup's history.

At which point both men, the world's finest batsman and the highest wicket taker, can ride off into the sunset with substantial personal achievements to savour.

But only one will leave the Wankhede Stadium tomorrow night completely content that the job has been done. It's unfair to boil down the biggest cricket game for four years in those terms. After all, both India and Sri Lanka possess rich talents, well capable of nailing victory for their country.

So how to determine who will win it?

This is the final many will have predicted before the umpire first called "play" back on February 19 in Mirpur, when India belted Bangladesh out of sight.

There are those who smell a fit-up. They were at home all the way - apart from Sri Lanka playing New Zealand at Mumbai to get a taste of the final venue - therefore it is destiny playing out.

The reason they've made the final is they are the best teams in the tournament, nothing more.

So they're playing at home. Someone has to, short of staging the Cup in the Andes or China. Their show, their conditions - so where's the big surprise in that?

Three Asian teams made the semifinal, again pretty predictable. New Zealand provided the white faces in the last four, and well done to them.

Sri Lanka's progress to the tournament's denouement has been the smoother.

Their hiccup came early, an 11-run loss to Pakistan. Otherwise their leading batsmen have been terrific, their bowlers indeciperable to all but the best batsmen, and even then not all of them.

Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upal Tharanga, their marvellous captain Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are the equal of any top four going around.

If there has been a better ball since the Cup began seven weeks ago than that from slippery round-armer Lasith Malinga which cannoned into the base of Martin Guptill's stumps in the semifinal, these eyes haven't seen it.

Tonight's match is likely to come down to India's batsmen against the bowlers of Sri Lanka.

There is a feeling that of all the teams, India handle the peculiar challenges thrown up by the Sri Lankans best.

Muralitharan, Malinga and Ajantha Mendis befuddle the best of the rest.

But by their various means Tendulkar, the explosive Virendar Sehwag, the quick-footed accumulator Gautam Gambhir, booming Yuvraj Singh and captain MS Dhoni, the best wicketkeeper/batsman going around, have shown they can do the business.

Then there is the mental stress certain to play its part. India's millions expect. It is a crushing weight, but having seen off Pakistan in the biggest game of the Cup, not without a few slices of good fortune, India will feel the hard part is done.

The chance to be the first team to win the Cup in its 10th edition on home soil won't have gone unnoticed either. It should be a belting contest.

A winner? India may feel it's theirs to lose, but this vote goes to Sri Lanka, especially if they bat first and can get enough runs to have India sweating under lights.

- NZ Herald

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