Published in www.cricketnext.com

It has been predicted that any of 6 teams- Australia, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, England or Pakistan- could lift the 2011 ICC World Cup on April 2 at Mumbai. Only a brave man would venture to narrow this list down to two. If forced to do so, I would go with India and Sri Lanka. 

Though the home advantage has never quite worked in World Cups till now, except when Lanka dazzled the cricket world by beating all-comers including Australia in the final at Lahore in 1996 ( a tournament played in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), things could be different his time round. The reasons are quite obvious. 

Firstly, the Indians and the Sri Lankans have quality batsmen who are adept at playing on low and slow sub-continental pitches. Secondly, they have spinners who are experienced and capable of bamboozling batsmen not used to playing the turning ball. Thirdly, these two teams stand perched at number 2 and 3 in the ICC ODI rankings, and have been in top form of late. 

Fourthly, and most importantly, winning is verily a habit. The Indians especially have learnt how to snatch victory from the jaws of many a defeat in recent years. The case used to be just the opposite before that. The Indians were known to falter at the post and fall at the last hurdle to lose narrowly when they should have won by miles. Not any more!

MS Dhoni’s team has shown poise under pressure, grit in the face of adversity and skill in tricky situations to emerge triumphant time and time again. Teams led by Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble before him had laid the platform for India’s rise to the pinnacle of success in the Test and ODI arenas, but it is only now that Team India is truly the team to beat on the world stage.

Their batting has a formidable appearance- Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina/Yusuf Pathan.

Their bowling is experienced and quite a handful on Indian pitches- Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, S. Sreesanth and Piyush Chawla. Ramachandra Ashwin is another option.

Sri Lanka look well prepared for the World Cup, though they will surely miss the class of Sanath Jayasuriya at the top of the order. Kumar Sangakarra and Mahela Jayawardene are two of the best batsmen in the world, while Tillakratne Dilshan and Lasith Malinga are probably their most exciting players this time. Muthiah Muralitharan would be keen to sign off on a high and could be at his menacing best.

Last time’s finalists indeed look capable of beating the very best and have the added advantage of playing all their league games at Colombo and other Sri Lankan grounds. 

In Dhoni and Sangakarra, these two teams have skippers who are virtually immune to pressure, especially the former. If these two men can withstand the added burden of expectation that a World Cup at home is sure to bring upon them, they could convert pressure situations into a winning cause this time around. 

India have the edge over Lanka on paper, but if these two teams meet in the Semi Finals or the Final of the forthcoming event, it could be the team that holds its nerve on the day which comes out triumphant in the end.

We will be watching with great interest…