Mumbai, April 2: What better way for India to wrap up a World Cup than to play to the bustle and effervescence of a home crowd and that too at the Mecca of Indian cricket - Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai? Indeed, India will be soaking up the home advantage when it plays against Sri Lanka in the final of the big event on April 2, surrounded by a myriad cheers of bliss and rapture and an environment imbued in palpable national pride.
And good fortune has shone on Team India more often than not at this ground, the home side having won 8 matches and lost 6 here. But perhaps one glaring fact is that one of its defeats at Wankhede was against the same team it is up against on Saturday. Ladies and Gentleman put your hands together for Sri Lanka. On that occasion, which unfolded on May 17, 1997, India was humiliated in its own back yard by 5 wickets with 55 balls to spare, thus losing a crucial match in a four-nation series.
Sri Lankan spearhead Chaminda Vaas bowled Sourav Ganguly with the first ball of the match, immediately setting India on the backfoot. Sachin Tendulkar departed soon after for 2, but thanks to a 61 from Rahul Dravid, a 72 from Ajay Jadeja and a quickfire 51 from Robin Singh, India recovered posting though, only a less-than-challenging total of 225. In reply, Sanath Jayasuriya, who was in devastating form at the time, blazed away a 151 not out from 120 balls and with minimal support from Marvan Attapattu (37) and captain Arjuna Ranatunga (17) took the Lankans home.
But a lot has changed since then, batting orders have declined and been resurrected for both sides, while power equations have fluctauted big time. Now one could say India and Sri Lanka are evenly matched and a winner on Saturday is anybody's guess. But India have pulled off some historic wins against various ostensibly superior oppositions at this venue in the past and seem equipped to do it again. After all, on this sacred turf, they have outdone the mighty South Africans twice in the mid-1990s, including in the final of the Titan Cup in 1996 and again in 2005.
It also beat Sri Lanka in the very first match played at this ground which was in 1987. Since then it has beaten the West Indies once (1989) and lost to them once (1994), been defeated by Australia twice (1996, 2003) and won once (2007) against that opposition and lost to England twice (1987, 2002). Among its other conquests are Zimbabwe (1987) and Bangladesh (1998).
So one hopes that with 50-50 record against Sri Lanka at this ground, India will beat the odds and prevail in the game to take the Cup. Wouldn't that just drive the fans crazy and cause Wankhede to erupt in rapturous applause?