India will be looking to win their second trophy in less than three weeks when they play Sri Lanka in the final of the tri-nation championship at Port-of-Spain in Trinidad on Thursday. The world's No. 1 ranked ODI team had won the ICC Champions Trophy in Birmingham on June 23. (Dhoni may be back for final vs Sri Lanka)
The sub-continental giants have played thrice since the Champions Trophy semifinals in Cardiff on June 20 with India winning twice, including Tuesday's must-win game in a rain-hit fixture in Trinidad. Thursday's final will be a grudge game for the Sri Lankans, who have always struggled to hit the right notes on big days against the Indians.
Although statistics mean nothing, Sri Lanka have a better record against India in the grand finals of three-nation tournaments. Out of the eight contested, Lanka have won five and India three. It was in Dambulla in August 2010 that India and Sri Lanka last clashed in the final of a three-nation tournament (New Zealand were the third team). The Lankans won by 74 runs, with Tillakaratne Dilshan smashing a century.
Sri Lanka are without Dilshan this time, but still have Kumar Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga, who have been in good form on Caribbean wickets. Tharanga smashed an unbeaten 174 against India at Sabina Park, Kingston last week as Lanka beat India by a whopping 161 runs.
Tuesday's 81-run win (via Duckworth-Lewis method) will boost India ahead of Thursday's final. The odds were stacked against India, who needed a win to qualify. Dream figures of four for eight runs by pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar set up India's win in a tournament where the bowlers have played crucial roles in matches affected by the elements.
In recent times, India have done well as a team. Great starts by the batsmen have generated good scores which the bowlers have defended easily. Backed by good fielding, India's young guns have shown the energy and intensity on big days. Ravindra Jadeja has stood out with both bat and ball.
Against Sri Lanka on Thursday, India will once again bank on their top batsmen. With the sun expected to play hide and seek and with 20 per cent chance of rain, the conditions at Port-of-Spain will remain a challenge.
Though they haven't really set the Caribbean islands ablaze with their exploits, India's batting still wears a formidable look with the in-form Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma opening the innings. Rohit made an unbeaten 48 in Tuesday's crucial game against Sri Lanka to go with his 46 in their 102-run victory against the West Indies. Dhawan fell early on Tuesday but compiled a fluent 77-ball 69 in the win against the hosts.
Stand-in captain Virat Kohli is the pivot around which the Indian batting revolves, and the Delhi player left his mark with a century off just 83 balls in their penultimate round-robin match against the West Indies.
Then there is Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina with rising all-rounder Jadeja completing the batting line-up. And in the event of Dhoni returning to the playing XI, it will only strengthen the batting.
It has been Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews dream to look India in the eye in every game. The Lankans have beaten India in this tournament once and will back themselves to repeat it. Man to man, the Lankans are quite capable but there is no denying that two men who can steal India's thunder are Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara.
It will be a special day for Jayawardene. He will play his 400th ODI, and becomes the third man ever to do so after Sachin Tendulkar (463) and Sanath Jayasuriya (445). With 11237 runs behind him, the former Lankan skipper has the ability to produce exceptional knocks on big occasions and India will be wary. Jayawardene is also the first to claim 200 ODI catches, a fact that highlights his sharp reflexes even at 36.
Both India and Sri Lanka will be upbeat. The average age of the teams is in the 20s and that makes them more buoyant. The Lankans may look docile on the field but won't lack in intensity. India's aggressive body language is well defined by men like Kohli and Jadeja.
Kohli has been really pushing his players. He said: "I told the team before the last game we played against Sri Lanka that 'we are flying home on the 12th (of July) no matter whether we play in the final or not; it's better we play in the finals than watching two other teams in the final'." Kohli will surely love to win a trophy under his captaincy before the Zimbabwean tour later this month.
India vs Sri Lanka in grand finals of three-team competitions:
4.1.1991: Asia Cup in Kolkata - India won by 7 wickets;
7.7.1998: Singer-Akai Nidahas Trophy in Colombo - India won by 6 runs;
29.10.2000: Coca-Cola Champions Trophy in Sharjah - Lanka won by 245 runs;
5.8.2001: Coca-Cola Cup in Colombo - Lanka won by 121 runs;
9.8.2005: Indian Oil Cup in Colombo - Lanka won by 18 runs;
14.9.2009: Compaq Cup in Colombo - India won by 46 runs;
13.1.2010: Tri-nation tournament in Mirpur (Bangladesh) - Lanka won by 4 wickets;
28.8.2010: Sri Lanka triangular series in Dambulla - Sri Lanka won by 74 runs.