India my pick for final packed with match-winners

The 2011 World Cup final, fittingly, will be contested by the two best-balanced and consistent teams in the competition and promises to be a magnificent occasion in Mumbai.

With Sachin Tendulkar on one side and Muttiah Muralitharan on the other, both teams want to win it for the great modern icons of Indian and Sri Lankan cricket, respectively, as well as for themselves and the millions and millions of passionate fans that support them.

We know that it will be Murali’s last game and, although we are due to see Tendulkar touring England with India later this year, we do not know how much longer the great batsman will go on playing after that. Whatever, it is certainly his last World Cup appearance.

It will be one of the biggest games ever played, in an historical context, and both teams are packed with players who are capable of winning the match for their country; not just Sachin and Murali, but Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Dilshan, Tharanga, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Malinga, Mendis… indeed, my list could be 22 players’ long!

My feeling is that it will be a real challenge for Sri Lanka to adapt very quickly to leaving Colombo, where they won both their quarter-final and semi-final, and where they were based for much of the group stage, and to work out how best to use the conditions they find in Mumbai.

Their top order batting, which has been so effective throughout this tournament, will be under huge pressure to perform one more time, but their bowling attack is multi-talented and will itself provide a significant test for the powerful Indian batting line-up.

Yet I get the feeling that India have reached the final without ever really performing, as a team, at 100 per cent of what they are capable – and, indeed, some way short of that. On home turf, and with their fanatical support, it is India who must start favourites.

The India v Pakistan semi-final, meanwhile, was a truly remarkable occasion in Mohali and to be there was one of the experiences of my broadcasting career.

It was good to see Pakistan fans being welcomed alongside the vast majority of Indian fans inside the stadium, and to see the political leaders of the two countries sitting alongside each other in the heavily-populated VIP area and quietly watching the cricket.

If those images, and the staging of the match itself, can inspire more harmony between India and Pakistan in a wider sense then much will have been achieved by this World Cup.

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