The STAR Cricket Asia Cup final against defending champion Sri Lanka at the National Stadium here on Sunday evening, presents Dhoni and Co., another opportunity to assuage genuine fears about the Indian team’s resilience in coping with a rich legacy and the resultant vacuum as Tendulkar copes with a body that has stretched itself thin over 19 years of top flight cricket while Dravid and Ganguly have been omitted on the basis of ageing shoulders.
India and Sri Lanka clashed in the tournament’s last final at Colombo in 2004 and the Islanders won by 25 runs. Only three players from the current Indian squad played in that match — Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan while the Sri Lankans have seven players from that final doing duty here.
And the Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene did probe about the young Indian batsmen’s ability to cope with pressure in the final.
Jayawardene’s comments may be part of the verbal jousting that precedes key clashes but India’s batting has to stick to its preamble of consistency that has bailed out the team all through the tournament as the bowling has lacked imagination and the fielders in the deep have resembled the walking-wounded.
Change in pace, subtle changes in angle or even the deployment of the slower delivery, have been on the wane though placid pitches that have smiled at the willow wielders often mean that bowlers walk in with slumped shoulders.
The Indian batting with the Sehwag-Gambhir duo at the top and a sedate Dhoni anchoring the middle overs, seems to be in the pink of health. Add to it Suresh Raina’s form, Rohit Sharma’s belated return to runs against Pakistan and Yuvraj Singh’s lusty strikes through the ‘V’, and you have a slew of batsmen capable of bolstering scores or dismantling targets.
Yet the Sri Lankan attack with the crafty Chaminda Vaas, nippy Dilharo Fernando along with Muttiah Muralitharan and the much-discussed mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis, cannot be discounted for potency as well as the ability to stifle.
The Sri Lankans with their double-barrel-gun combine of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara, have bludgeoned bowlers without any remorse.
Jayawardene has slowly found his feet and Chamara Kapugedera and Chamara Silva too have chipped in and the Indian attack needs to shrug its rust and stick to the basics as emphasised by bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad.
India last won the Asia Cup at Sharjah in 1995. It is time to regain the cup that at one stage was India’s monopoly since its launch in 1984.
India has won the tournament on four occasions. But before that Dhoni’s men should forget about cramped schedules, flat pitches, sultry weather and perhaps take a leaf out of their rivals who always seem to be on their toes in the field.
For Sri Lanka, playing in Pakistan is often about revisiting memories of that famous 1996 World Cup triumph at Lahore and for added inspiration, all they have to do is to look at the VIP enclosure on Sunday evening as the then skipper Arjuna Ranatunga will be around in his latest role of being the Asian Cricket Council’s president.