India close in on victory

Sri Lanka set target of 274-6 as India are 241-4 in reply having lost Tendulkar for just 18.

No fairytale final for Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar who was dismissed by Lasith Malinga for just 18 in front of a disappointed home crowd [AFP]

India appeared to be heading towards winning the Cricket World Cup on Saturday, reaching 241-4 after 40 overs, chasing 275 for victory over Sri Lanka.

Gautan Gambhir, with an unbeaten 96, and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 59 not out, had put on 106 for the fourth wicket against a Sri Lankan bowling attack that was unable to break through.

Dhoni promoted himself up the batting order after the first two Indian wickets fell cheaply and Virat Kohli was dismissed for 35.

India’s master batsman Sachin Tendulkar failed to get anywhere near an anticipated 100th international century in front of a hopeful Mumbai home crowd.

Tendulkar, the holder of several major batting records including the most runs and most centuries in both Tests and limited-overs internationals, was caught behind by Kumar Sangakkara off pace bowler Lasith Malinga for 18, severely denting India’s batting hopes.

Earlier Mahela Jayawardene stroked a delightful unbeaten 103 to take Sri Lanka to a challenging 274 for six.

Jayawardene, the only Sri Lankan to exceed 50, held the innings together with deft glides and pushes before cutting loose in the batting powerplay. Sixty-three runs came from the powerplay, Sri Lanka’s highest of the tournament.

He reached his century from 84 balls with a stunning boundary through the covers off Zaheer Khan, stepping outside his leg-stump against the left-arm paceman.

Captain Kumar Sangakkara was the second top-scorer with 48 from 67 balls.

Zaheer bowled brilliantly in his opening spell with meticulous control of line and length. His opening three overs were maidens and the first ball of his fourth accounted for Upul Tharanga (2) who nibbled fatally at another good length delivery which Virender Sehwag seized with a fine tumbling catch at slip.

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, replacing the injured Ashish Nehra, bowled a no-ball in his first over and conceded two boundaries to Tillakaratne Dilshan in his third.

Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni pulled him out of the attack then brought him back to replace Zaheer, whose opening five-over spell had cost only six runs.

The volatile Sreesanth, whose five previous overs in the tournament in the opening match against Bangladesh had cost 53 runs, was struck for three boundaries in his fifth over, two of them from consecutive balls by Sangakkara.

Yuvaraj breakthrough

Munaf Patel, though, bowled his medium pace accurately from the other end and the introduction of Harbhajan Singh spelt the end of Dilshan for 33. Dilshan tried to sweep and the ball brushed his glove and hit the stumps.

Sangakkara, stylish and determined, used his feet to spinners Harbhajan and Yuvraj Singh to work the ball into the gaps.

Jayawardene drove Harbhajan through the covers and steered Sreesanth, coming back for just one over, to third man for another boundary.

He added 62 from 68 balls with Sangakkara, who was looking increasingly comfortable when Yuvraj made the breakthrough. Sangakkara stepped back to cut and edged the ball to Dhoni who threw it high in the air in triumph.

Dhoni unsuccessfully appealed against a not out decision against Thilan Samaraweera for another caught behind when the batsman was on 10 and Sachin Tendulkar got the loudest cheer of the day when he came on to bowl the 33rd over.

Jayawardene brought up his half-century from 49 balls then cut a loosener from Virat Kohli for four as Dhoni rang the changes.

Zaheer returned and Jayawardene helped himself to a four with a controlled glide to the third man boundary.

He lost Samaraweera lbw for 21 when a review, this time, did not go in the batsman””””s favour. Umpire Simon Taufel gave the batsman not out when he missed a sweep off Yuvraj but the television replay showed the ball would have struck the stumps.

Chamara Kapugedera (1) pushed a simple catch to Suresh Raina at cover three runs later off Zaheer.

Nuwan Kulasekara (32) supported Jayawardene nobly, hitting Zaheer into the stands for the first six of the match, and Thisara Perera completed the powerplay with 22 not out from only nine balls, including a six.

The match began in bizarre circumstances when the coin had to be tossed twice because match referee Jeff Crowe did not hear Sangakkara””””s call. Dhoni tossed the coin again and Sangakkara called correctly.

India made one change to the side that beat Pakistan in the semi-final, bringing in pace bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth in place of the injured Ashish Nehra for the final fixture on Saturday.

Star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was declared fit to play despite niggling hamstring and knee injuries, but Sri Lanka made four changes after the semi-final against New Zealand.

Al Jazeera””””s Prerna Suri in Mumbai said that the atmosphere around the stadium was “almost like a carnival”.

Many of the fans crowded outside the stadium as they could not get the tickets.

“Some of these fans are the unfortunate ones who could not get a seat in the stadium … and this has been one of the criticisms about this venue … that despite having over 32,000 seats, only 4,000 were available for the general public, most of these tickets were taken over by VIPs and politicians.

“Security is also very tight because the Indian intelligence received several inputs over the past few weeks about a possible attack by extremist groups at the stadium [and] there is a multilayered security presence here,” Suri said.

Our correspondent added that fans were still excited and looking forward to a potential Indian triumph.

Tribute to Muralitharan

In the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, Al Jazeera””””s Minelle Fernandez said that there was a great deal of excitement in the city, with people driving around, many draped in the country””””s flags.

“As much as this is about people rooting for the Sri Lankan team, this is also a tribute to Muttiah Muralitharan and what he has meant to Sri Lankan cricket, literally over the last 20 years.

“This match will be his last one-day international game, and Sri Lankans are very appreciative of what he has done,” Fernandez said.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan team made a number of changes to the team that defeated New Zealand in the semi-finals.

Batsman Chamara Kapugedera, all-rounder Thisara Perera, off-spinner Suraj Randiv and seamer Nuwan Kulasekera replaced Chamara Silva, the injured Angelo Mathews, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis.

Randiv had only been called into the squad on Thursday as cover.

The toss had to take place twice after no one heard the call from Sangakkara first time around.

Teams batting first have won seven of the nine finals since the inaugural World Cup in 1975.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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