Team batting first would have a distinct advantage in the World Cup finals © Getty Images
Team batting first would have a distinct advantage in the World Cup finals © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

To quote the popular line from Om Shanti Om, “Picture abhi baaki hai. That is to say, it’s not over yet. But the reaction to India’s win over Pakistan would have you believe it is. At least, a part of the World Cup that mattered for the fans is over.

 

Fans prayed for India to beat Pakistan and to hell with the Cup! Their prayers have been answered and the final is now an anti- climactic proceeding of formalities that has to be got through. It’s okay as long as the Indian team doesn’t share that sentiment…

 

They made that mistake in 1996. Sanjay Manjrekar would admit years later in an article penned on the 1996 campaign that they were in fact coasting after beating Pakistan and too laid back in the run up to a semi-final. Then, as now, Sri Lanka does not have such euphoria to shake off. It proceeded in a business-like fashion to the semis then, and so it has to the final this time.

 

The enormity of the challenge posed by Sri Lanka is underlined by the fact that it successfully chased 242 against Australia in the 1996 final. Only on one other occasion has a team won batting second in a World Cup final – Australia in the 1999 edition and it shook off a much easier target. It takes nerves of steel to overcome a competitive target in the final, or so it would seem anyway if we go by history.

 

That an opponent as formidable as Australia did not faze Sri Lanka is telling. Sure, that was 1996. But Sri Lanka has had that calm and business-like approach in much of its cricket and over the last few years, has regained much of the zing it had lost for a few years since that astounding win.

 

The good news is that India has changed a lot since then. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has both feet planted firmly on the ground and would likely rein in any of his charges should they get a bit carried away. It’s hard not to in the face of such adulation and attention.

 

In Sachin Tendulkar, they have a warrior of five previous campaigns, and there are not many mistakes he wouldn’t have watched and learned from by now. He was visibly urging the rest of the team to hold it till they officially crossed the line on 30th.

 

One hopes that between them, they would ensure the hangover of a surreal victory is banished well in time for the final. And after all that’s done, the toss may yet send Indian hopes for a toss. Chasing a big total under lights against Sri Lanka’s army of spinners may prove to be beyond their grasp.

 

There’s no shame, however, in losing to a better opponent. After all, the 2003 team was received warmly despite being destroyed by Australia in the final; they simply didn’t stand a chance then. What would be a shame would be for the team to lose its way through complacency, especially considering India has just gotten into its groove in the last two matches, really.

 

India-Pakistan is bigger than everything else…but only for the teams participating in the clash, not the rest of the cricket world. One beating the other does not, ultimately, seal the World Cup – lock, stock and barrel.

 

Beating Pakistan may have looked bigger than even beating that marauding Ricky Ponting-led team from 2003, but it’s not. And as long as India does not lose sight of that reality, it should give a good account of itself in the final and may the better team win.

 

With the fans still feasting on the sumptuous victory against Pakistan, the weight of expectations on the team may, paradoxically, have reduced, leaving it in a great position to give its best shot at winning the World Cup (and there may not be a better chance for a long time). If, it can forget about Wednesday…

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)