India vows no letdown in Cricket World Cup final
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni spent Friday trying to ease concerns that his team may have peaked too soon at the Cricket World Cup.
India advanced to Saturday's final against Sri Lanka with a 29-run win over rival Pakistan on Wednesday at Mohali. There was as much emphasis on off-field issues surrounding the semifinal as what happened on the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium pitch.
The Indo-Pak encounter led to a thawing of tension between nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought three wars since former British colonial rulers divided the subcontinent.
The focus shifts back entirely to the players at Mumbai, where India is bidding to be the first country to win the World Cup on home soil.
"If you just talk about potential as to what we can do, there is plenty to come," Dhoni said on the eve of the final. India last won the World Cup title in 1983.
India's path to the final was challenging, defeating three-time defending champion Australia in the quarter-finals and holding off a Pakistan squad that topped a group containing Australia and Sri Lanka.
"We have done quite well in the tournament, won games with runs in the pocket and quite a few wickets left when we chased," Dhoni said. "Every game was a challenge for us and we had to be at our best."
Offspinner Harbhajan Singh is just starting to find his range and Sachin Tendulkar desperately wants to end the wait for his 100th international century. Dhoni has been scratchy with the bat, but his captaincy has been astute and his judgment almost perfect in the knockout stage regarding bowling changes.
Dhoni has experience when the stakes are highest, having guided a young Indian side to victory in the inaugural Twenty20 world championship in 2007.
"It's not about the quarters or semis but the final, how you turn up on the field and what you do," the wicketkeeper/batsman said. "Until that full stop … that sentence is not complete.
"We know our strengths, weaknesses, what we need to do on the field. It is a big game for all of us."
India had less time to recover from the semifinals, with Sri Lanka defeating New Zealand on Tuesday and getting an extra day to travel and prepare for the final. Dhoni thinks that's a benefit, because his players haven't had time to get distracted or overwhelmed.
It "helps not to think too much ahead and just being in the present," he said.
India hasn't had a chance to play at the renovated Wankhede Stadium, whereas Sri Lanka had a victory over New Zealand there in the group stage. Dhoni had a close look at the wicket square on Friday, and thought the pitch might slightly favor the seam bowlers but be perfect for batting on early.
"Since it is a big game, more often than not, the team winning the toss will bat first and put pressure on the opposition," he said. "The wicket might get slower, but not so much.
"It will be more about pressure."
There's been speculation about Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, the leading wicket taker and international cricket, being ruled out of the final because of nagging injuries, but Dhoni isn't buying into that.
"He will definitely play the game," he said. "Unless he is on one leg."