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Lanka have popular support
by Gulu Ezekiel
Apr 27, 2007
It’s a safe bet to state that almost the entire cricket world—outside of Australia of course—is backing Sri Lanka to win the final of the World Cup on Saturday.

I will not go into details of why the Aussies have never been popular winners—Sunil Gavaskar has given us the full spiel on that topic already—but the fact remains, their domination of international cricket is getting stifling.

In a game like football with more than 200 teams worldwide, it is acceptable if a team like Brazil wins the World Cup three times out of the last four occasions.

But cricket is the international sport with the smallest base. With just about 10 countries having Test status (Zimbabwe’s comes and goes) and a handful more in ODIs, a new champion is the need of the hour.

In that sense it would have been refreshing if either New Zealand or South Africa had reached the final since they are the only major cricket nations who have failed to do so (South Africa of course having made their World Cup debut as late as 1992). Still, with Australia being champions in 1999 and 2003 and this time around flattening all opponents in their 10 games in the tournament, the World Cup could really do with a surprise in the final.

Having followed the World Cup since its inception in England in 1975, I honestly feel this has been the most tedious of them all. The major reason is surely the length—no other world sporting event save for the FIFA World Cup stretches to even a month. Even head honcho Malcolm Speed has finally admitted this massive blunder. And to add to the tediousness, the last 50 matches over seven weeks have only produced only a handful of thrillers. Two of these had little significance—Zimbabwe and Ireland being involved in a tie in the group stage and England beating the West Indies by one wicket in the last Super 8 match which had been rendered inconsequential by then.

The Australian juggernaut even flattened the Lankans in their Super 8 match. The crucial difference between that encounter and the final however is that this time the 1996 champions will be at full strength with Chaminda Vaas and Muthiah Muralitharan back in the playing XI.

Vaas, Murali and Sanath Jayasuriya are three survivors from that 1996 final at Lahore along with Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath. It is the presence of Sri Lanka’s Australian coach Tom Moody that adds a pinch more spice to the final. Surely deep down inside he must feel conflicted plotting the downfall of his fellow-countrymen. But then such sporting guns-for-hire are too professional to allow sentiments to get the better of them. Popular sentiment is surely behind Sri Lanka. But then they will be acutely aware that is not enough to give them victory. They will have to play out of their skins to topple the world champions.

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